Speaking at a White House event focused on competition in agriculture, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland expressed their shared commitment to effectively enforcing federal competition laws that protect farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers and growers from unfair and anticompetitive practices, including the antitrust laws and the Packers and Stockyards Act. The Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice are already working together to support their respective enforcement efforts under these laws. As one step in that continuing process, today they released the following statement of principles and commitments:
• Farmers, ranchers, and other producers and growers deserve the benefits of free and fair competition. The Justice Department and USDA therefore are prioritizing matters impacting competition in agriculture.
• The agencies will jointly develop within 30 days a centralized, accessible process for farmers, ranchers and other producers and growers to submit complaints about potential violations of the antitrust laws and the Packers and Stockyards Act. The agencies will protect the confidentiality of the complainants if they so request to the fullest extent possible under the law and also commit to supporting relevant whistleblower protections, including newly-applicable protections for criminal antitrust complainants against unlawful retaliation.
• The agencies will work together to promote effective information sharing and case cooperation, including processes the agencies will follow to efficiently address a complaint.
•Both agencies commit to vigorously enforce the laws that protect farmers, ranchers and other producers and growers from unfair, deceptive, discriminatory and anticompetitive practices. As appropriate, USDA will make reports or refer potential violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act to the Justice Department to better enable its Antitrust Division to pursue meritorious competition-related cases and to allow the agencies to collaborate on issues of mutual interest. Additionally, The Justice Department and USDA will work together to identify and highlight areas where Congress can help modernize these toolkits.
“Producers all across the country for too long have faced a marketplace that benefits a few large companies over those who are growing our food,” said Vilsack. “This means that consumers are paying more and farmers, ranchers and producers see less of the profits. The pandemic only further disrupted these challenges across the supply chain, exposing a food system that was rigid, consolidated and fragile. Antitrust and market regulatory enforcement is essential to enabling the competition necessary to transform our concentrated supply chains in favor of diversified, resilient food systems. These are complex, difficult areas of law, and our authorities are 100 years old or more, but I’m heartened by reaffirming our shared commitment to tackle these challenges together.”
“The Justice Department takes very seriously the responsibility we share with our partners across the federal government to protect consumers, safeguard competition, and ensure economic opportunity and fairness for all,” said Garland. “Over the past 10 months, we have stepped up our efforts to ensure competition and counter anticompetitive practices across sectors – from airlines to insurance brokers to book publishers. And we will continue to vigorously enforce our antitrust laws, no matter the industry, no matter the company and no matter the individual.”