This morning, I woke up to an NPR report that began like this:
Since the 1980s, American agriculture has become increasingly concentrated. Today, less than 2 percent of farms account for half of all agricultural sales. The new antitrust division of President Obama’s Justice Department has said that scrutinizing monopolies in agriculture is a top priority.
That shift is giving hope to independent farmers, who have complained for years that agriculture giants are shrinking the marketplace and paying farmers less for their products.
Naturally, this got me right out of bed, as I have been reporting on the role competition plays in agriculture of late here on Civil Eats, and because the media barely batted an eyelash when the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent out a press release a week ago about the public workshops that will be held all over the US beginning in early 2010 to find out from farmers about possible anti-competitive behavior in agricultural markets.
Just a day following the release, Phillip Weiser, the deputy assistant attorney general and point person on competition issues in Big Ag, gave a speech at the Organization for Competitive Markets meeting in St. Louis — the headquarters of seed and chemical giant Monsanto, which many have argued controls too much of the market. (Here is Daily Yonder blog’s take on the event.)
The Organization for Competitive Markets does get funding from DuPont, Monsanto’s biggest rival — though DuPont did not fund this meeting. The two companies have been digging their claws into each other of late and it keeps getting uglier — but lets hope the DOJ doesn’t see their job as simply making way for DuPonts and Monsantos of the world to be able to produce GM seeds. Policy making should first and foremost focus on what is best for the farmers and consumers, who are at the mercy of these large corporations. Weiser says that the DOJ will look specifically at seeds, as well as dairy and livestock consolidation. I would add processing (ethnol/corn syrup giant Cargill might be a good place to start), and supermarkets (especially Wal-mart) to that list.
Mad Money host Jim Cramer was one of the few who picked up on the story in the mainstream media, spending a little over eight minutes going into detail about his speculation that Monsanto will be the first on the chopping block at the DOJ. He even throws in a plug for the movie Food, Inc., saying:
I could see Justice, with a capital J, pursuing a restraining order against Monsanto based on the accusations in [Food, Inc.], cause they are so darn inflammatory and this anti-trust division wants to make a name for itself…
Here is the whole segment with Cramer, well worth watching:
h/t to Katherine Goldstein for bringing the Mad Money clip to my attention