Posts Tagged ‘dairy’
Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday cautioned farmers and producers at a workshop in D.C. that Justice Department antitrust enforcement in the agriculture industry won’t fix all their troubles.

Holder said the DOJ has heard the concerns of producers and farmers at several previous workshops about competition in the agriculture industry. The Attorney General said he and his colleagues in the Barack Obama administration are working to bring “market transparency, market access and market fairness” to the industry.

“Of course, we know that antitrust enforcement actions will not solve every problem. We know that,” Holder said. “But because of the insights that you have provided … I believe that we will be better prepared to take the steps necessary to ensure a fair and competitive marketplace both for producers as well as consumers.”

The Antitrust Division under Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney has been active in taking on antitrust concerns in the agriculture industry.

Varney has been a constant presence at agriculture workshops across the country about competition issues. And her division has acted on antitrust concerns, taking on companies including dairy giant Dean Foods. The DOJ sued the company in January to undo its 2009 purchase of some milk processing plants in Wisconsin.

The DOJ and Agriculture Department, which hosted the workshop Wednesday, also created a task force in June to review ways to encourage competition in the agriculture industry. Holder said the group created a “simple and accessible online submission process” for members of the agriculture community to submit complaints and concerns about industry and market issues.

The Attorney General said farmers and producers should continue to share their comments with the DOJ.

“I also want to be clear about something: the critical channel of communication that we have opened this past year … will remain open,” Holder said. “And the Departments of Justice and Agriculture will continue working in close coordination to address your concerns and to ensure fairness and opportunity for America’s farmers, producers and agriculture industry.”

Monday, March 29th, 2010

The Justice Department’s top antitrust cop, Christine Varney, joined New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer in upstate New York on Monday to discuss the state of the dairy industry with farmers from the region.

The meeting in Batavia, arranged at Schumer’s request, attracted about 200 people, according to WCBS television.

The session follows a formal workshop in Iowa earlier this month that is part of a series hosted by the DOJ and the Department of Agriculture exploring competition in agricultural industries.

Schumer and other critics have complained that the prices paid to dairy farmers have dropped, but consumers haven’t seen any parallel decrease in the price of milk at the store. Schumer said prices paid to dairy farmers are the lowest in nearly four decades

“For too long farmers have been receiving rock-bottom prices for their product, while prices have not dropped commensurately for consumers at the stores. … It just doesn’t add up,” Schumer said in a statement according to The Buffalo News.

A Catskills-based Web site called the Watershed Post, along with several farmers and farm advocates, blogged about the event. Some highlights:

*Schumer went after Dean Foods, hard.

“Dean Foods is the largest fluid milk buyer in the country. … They dominate too much of the dairy industry, they thwart competition, and both farmers and consumers are hurt. … Dean Foods’ profits went up by a third while milk prices to farmers crashed,” Schumer said, according to Lissa Harris from Watershed Post.

The Justice Department sued Dean Foods in January alleging that the dairy processor’s acquisition of two plants in Wisconsin eliminated competition in the milk industry. In a filing last Thursday, Dean Foods argued that the DOJ did not define the geographic market in its complaint in a manner required by its own guidelines for challenging a merger.

*Varney, who grew up outside Syracuse and went to college in Albany, said she milked cows and is familiar with family farms.

*One speaker said the prices paid to dairy producers dropped more than 30 percent in 2007 and 2008, and 25 percent last year.

*Some speakers stressed the role that large retailers play — saying they pressure the processors, who in turn pressure producers to lower prices.

*One farmer with 1,800 cows lost half a million dollars last year. He said he used to sell to five processors, but they’ve all gone out of business or been sold to Dean Foods.

A local television news station in Rochester reported before the session that some farmers in the area are paid $5 per hundred pounds of milk, while others received more than $16 for the same amount.

“Our problem really is that we are getting a shrinking dollar … but the consumer is not seeing a lower price,” one farmer told the station, WHAM.

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