Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Sustainable Food Forum for United States’ Farmers?

It’s about time that food became an interdepartmental issue: just this week Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsak announced that he and Attorney General Eric Holder are combining forces to initiate what is the first ever joint workshops between the USDA and the Department of Justice to consider recent sustainable food issues and regulations. The workshops are set to begin in 2010 and continue through the year.

While this inevitably allows for increased examination of the United States’ sustainable food regulation policies, it does one better, allowing an opportunity for producers to voice their opinions about “potentially anticompetitive conduct” and providing a platform for farmers and farm advocates to explore their concerns with regards to antitrust laws within the ag-business. Michael Pollan, prominent food writer, recently put the antitrust debate in tangible terms:

    “Antitrust laws are very significant, actually, because you have more concentration in the food industry than in just about any other industry. Most anti-trust experts say that if 4 [or fewer] companies control 40% or more of a marketplace, it’s not competitive. And in food we have that in meatpacking, [where] there are 4 companies that control 85% of the beef, [and in] seed production, fertilizer production… there is this tight little hourglass in the food industry, [which means] lots of farmers, very few buyers, which forces farmers to take prices, they have no control over prices at all. So if indeed we were to push an anti-trust agenda in the food industry, it would be the best thing for farmers and the best thing for consumers.”

This comes as a welcome first step to those interested in the incorporation of the “overall world” into the “suit world” responsible for creating the laws that govern the United States’ often less than sustainable food systems. However, it remains to be seen whether this is a legitimate offering to those with tangible agricultural experience, or a coup to protect what has been a pitchfork upheaval towards recent proposed food policies. As of yet, workshops will be organized, promoted and controlled by the Antitrust Division and most of the workshops will be held in Washington, D.C.

Please email for more information on how you can take part in the Sustainable Food discussion and ensure an open and fair dialogue for all.

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