Thank you, Secretary Vilsack. And thank you all for joining us and welcoming us this morning. It’s fitting that we’ve gathered here in the “Centennial State,” because, as much as today’s discussion is about cattle, hog, and other livestock industry issues, it is also about our nation’s founding ideals of fairness and equal opportunity. And, above all, it’s about better understanding and addressing the challenges you face.
For some of you, these challenges have never felt more urgent or more difficult to overcome. I realize this. So does Secretary Vilsack. And so does the President. Our nation is now the world’s largest producer of beef and third-largest producer of pork and pork products. And here in Colorado, the livestock industry is an economic anchor. We know that your communities and counties are, in large part, “ag-dependent.” In this state alone, more than 100,000 jobs rely on the agriculture and food industries. And more than four in five farms and ranches are family- or individually owned. We also know that, although beef exports have been rising since the early ‘90’s, too many farmers and ranchers are fighting tooth-and-nail to make a living. This is a serious issue. And it’s a problem we can only solve by coming together – to listen, to learn, to share, and to seek out solutions.
That’s why we’re here today. The discussion we’ve gathered to begin reflects an historic partnership between the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, and leaders from across our nation’s agriculture industry. It’s a partnership forged, not only so we can better understand the conditions that you face every day, though that’s a first and crucial part of this effort, but also – and most important – so we can act.
As Secretary Vilsack mentioned, we kicked off this workshop series nearly six months ago and, so far, have explored competition issues in the seed, pork, poultry, and dairy industries. Today, of course, we’re here in Fort Collins to learn about the competition and regulatory issues facing cattle, hog, and other livestock industry sectors. And we’ve made these workshops a Cabinet-level priority so that we can most effectively and efficiently determine how to ensure a fairer, more competitive marketplace for all of you.
We already know that – for many producers – consolidation in the meatpacking industry is a top concern. And I want you all to know that the Justice Department is committed to fulfilling its responsibility to take appropriate enforcement action when a merger or other activity threatens to erode competition. For example, when JBS proposed to acquire the National Beef Packing Company, the Justice Department challenged the transaction on the grounds that it would have reduced competition among packers in the sale of boxed beef and for the purchase of feed cattle. As a result of that lawsuit, the parties abandoned the transaction last year. This was an important step – but we realize that it was only a small step. We would like to hear any lingering concerns. We would like to know what more we can do.
We’re also eager to discuss the fact that, today, many producers and consumers are unsure whether they are getting a fair shake. Farmers have noticed discrepancies between prices at the grocery store and prices paid to producers for their livestock or crops. Secretary Vilsack and I are devoting our next workshop to this very issue in December, but we are eager to air out these concerns today, as well.
We realize that many of you are concerned more generally about market concentration. Let me assure each of you that administration leaders – across and beyond USDA and DOJ – understand that having a fair and competitive agricultural marketplace is critical for producers and consumers alike. At the Justice Department, vigorously – and appropriately – enforcing our antitrust laws is an essential part of our core mission. Today, it’s also a top priority.
That said, none of us believes that antitrust enforcement is the solution to every problem. But it is a solution, and it is part of our larger, government-wide commitment to championing the pro-consumer principles that will promote competition in the agricultural sector. It is with these principles in mind that Secretary Vilsack and I are eager to begin today’s discussion. Whether you’re here to share your concerns over concentration or consolidation, pricing or the Packers and Stockyards Act, we are here to listen. Not only do we welcome your insights and recommendations – we’re relying on them.
If past is prologue, your suggestions will be many, and they will be valuable. After our call for your ideas last year, we received thousands of comments. Already, your input has been critical in guiding and focusing our work. That tremendous response only represents a fraction of the potential that I know still exists for building on this extraordinary example of government-public engagement at its best.
Ultimately, our conversation is about much more than simply last year’s trends or this year’s challenges. It is about your livelihoods, your families, this region’s economy, and our centuries-old American way of life. It is about our nation.
Your participation this morning gives me great hope about what we can – and will – accomplish together in the days and weeks ahead. Secretary Vilsack and I look forward to hearing from, and working with, all of you.