Thank you, Secretary Vilsack. It’s good to be with you, and it’s great to be back in your beautiful home state.
I had the chance to spend quite a bit of time here during the President’s campaign. That’s when the people of this great state taught me – and proved to our entire nation – that no matter how improbable the goal or difficult the task, there’s simply no better place to begin than here in Iowa.
Today, I’ve returned for what I know will be another learning opportunity. As I stand here, I’m reminded of President Eisenhower’s observation that “farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.” His words remain true today. And, in the decades since he spoke them, the challenges facing farmers and other leaders across our agriculture industry have become even more difficult.
That’s precisely why we’ve gathered for this historic discussion. I’m glad to see so many of you here. And I want to thank the people of Ankeny for hosting this milestone event.
Now, I don’t use that word “milestone” lightly. It’s been more than a century since the Sherman Antitrust Act became law, and nearly 90 years since the Packers and Stockyard Act entered the books. In that time, not once have our nation’s Departments of Justice and Agriculture come together for a public discussion on competition and regulatory issues in your industry. Not once have farmers, ranchers, processors, consumer groups, economists and antitrust attorneys joined to share their perspectives on issues of competition and regulation – issues you all understand best.
But today, in this room, that’s exactly what’s happening. And it’s what will happen in similar rooms across the country in the coming months. These workshops are an opportunity for us all. And I believe they will provide each of us with a more complete understanding of an industry that has been at the core of the American economy ever since there was an American economy.
These workshops also reflect the Justice Department’s renewed commitment to collaboration, to transparency and to results. While our top priority remains the protection of our national security, we cannot – and we will not – neglect our responsibility to safeguard and strengthen the American economy. If we fail to defend America’s position in the global marketplace – if we neglect our duty to fight for prosperity, growth and opportunity at every turn – we risk the security of our country and the safety of our people. And that, quite simply, is not an option.
Now, we all know that one of the greatest threats to our economy is the erosion of free competition in our markets. And we’ve learned the hard way that recessions and long periods of reckless deregulation can foster practices that are anti-competitive and even illegal.
So we must ask, is today’s agriculture industry suffering from a lack of free and fair competition in the marketplace? To answer this question, we must begin by examining what we know for sure. We know that a growing number of American farmers find it increasingly difficult to survive by doing what they’ve done for decades. And we’ve learned that some of them believe the competitive environment may be, at least in part, to blame.
The Justice Department, as well as the USDA and the entire administration, is committed to protecting competition vigorously. But I also recognize that the enforcement of the antitrust laws, while critical, does not fully address the concerns of many agriculture industry leaders and stakeholders. That’s why we’re partnering with the USDA – to benefit from its deep expertise in your industry and, hopefully, to share ours on the broader regulatory issues that are potentially at play.
That’s also why we’re engaging directly with all of you – to listen, to learn and to determine the best ways to ensure fairness and encourage success.
As we evaluate and develop policy, we want to hear from you. In fact, when we announced these workshops last year, we also issued a call for your comments and recommendations. So far, the response has been tremendous. To date, we’ve received more than 15,000 comments. And I’m grateful that so many of you have contributed to this extraordinary example of government-public engagement at its best.
Not only must we keep up this work, we must expand this work. Together, I believe we can address the 21st-century challenges that the agriculture industry now faces. And I’m certain we can honor and preserve your industry’s essential role in our economy, as well as our culture, our livelihood and our global standing.
Your participation here gives me great hope about what we can accomplish together in the days and months ahead. Secretary Vilsack and I look forward to hearing from you and to working with you.
Thank you very much.