USDA and the Department of Justice will hold their fifth and final workshop on Wednesday investigating consolidation in agriculture and its impacts on those affected, from producers to consumers.
The first four workshops spanned crop-farmer concerns, from seed companies to buyers; poultry contracts; dairy industry consolidation and market transparency; and the power of red meat packers. They have often sparked heated exchanges and this week’s likely will be no different, given that food prices are on the rise again. Scheduled for Wednesday at USDA headquarters in Washington, the daylong meeting will focus on the spread between the prices farmers receive and the consumer pays. It will also pull together the findings from the previous meetings.
It is widely expected that super-grocer Wal-Mart will be the primary target as the agencies explore the supply chains that bring agricultural production to the nation’s dinner plates. Critics note Wal-Mart controls about 25 percent of the overall total U.S. grocery market, and with $150 billion in 2009 grocery sales Wal-Mart was larger than the next three grocery competitors combined.
“In 2009, the top four food retailers — Wal-Mart, Kroger, Costco and Supervalu — controlled more than half of all grocery sales. In local markets, the four largest supermarket chains can control more than 70 percent of grocery sales,” according to the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch, which is co-hosting a meat industry pre-workshop meeting in Washington Tuesday afternoon.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has brought a major contingent of workers to each of the four previous meetings, partially to spotlight Wal-Mart and consolidation in the retail sector.
As the final workshop, this one will draw in some of the take-homes from previous meetings. Eric Holder, U.S. attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice and Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture, along with Christine Varney, assistant attorney general in the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, will open the session.
These workshops are not simply listening sessions or theoretical discussions. Several companies that came under fire in previous workshops, including Monsanto and Dean Foods already have been affected.
Information on the workshops, including public comments and the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting can be found at https://www.justice.gov/…
Linda Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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