The Justice Department heard from chicken farmers on Friday at the latest in a series of workshops assessing the state of competition in agriculture.
The workshops are co-hosted with the Department of Agriculture.
Dozens of contract poultry growers lined up to provide testimony, the trade newsletter Agri-Pulse reported from the conference, with former growers commenting that attendees are “taking a big risk” in speaking out.
One panelist, Alabama producer Garry Staples, said he feared retaliation from buyers because of his participation in workshop. Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Christine Varney told Staples to call her if any company retaliates against him and gave the farmer her direct line, according to Agri-Pulse.
Attorney General Eric Holder, who also made it to the first workshop in Ankeny, Iowa, encouraged farmers to articulate their concerns and noted that the Justice Department has received more than 15,000 comments on the workshops. ”Not only do we appreciate your input,” Holder said, “quite frankly, we need it.”
“With your engagement, I believe we can move closer to answering the question that’s at the heart of these workshops – the question of whether competition in today’s agriculture industry is as free and fair as it should be,” he said.
According to Agri-Pulse, Varney committed resources to a Department of Agriculture division — the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration — to help it watch over the poultry industry.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King and other state officials attended the hearing, which was held at at Alabama A & M University in Normal, Ala. Holder’s wife, Sharon Malone, grew up a few hours from the hearing, the Attorney General said.