Government Targets Agriculture Industry for Increased Antitrust Scrutiny

During the last of five joint public workshops with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on December 8, 2010 – the first ever to examine competition issues affecting the agriculture industry – the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Antitrust Division, Christine Varney, emphasized the importance of “vigorous enforcement of the antitrust laws …to ensure competitive agriculture markets”. Ms Varney warned that, “[DOJ] stand[s] vigilant against violations of the antitrust law” and “prosecuting conduct that violates the antitrust laws, and enforcement in the agriculture sector remains a priority”.

The five workshops held across the country were led variously by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and Ms. Varney, and covered a wide range of issues and topics, including crop and hog farming; the poultry and dairy industries; the livestock sector; and, an examination of margins along the supply chain from producers to consumers. Ms. Varney acknowledged that the knowledge DOJ gained at the workshops would help identify potential violations and targets for prosecution.

A close review of Ms. Varney’s public comments, in particular, at the various workshops reveals five likely DOJ future enforcement trends in the agriculture sector...

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