Agriculture Workshop Comment Number: AGW-14412

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Comment Number: AGW-14412

From: STEVE GILMAN
Sent: Thursday, December 31, 2009 2:06 PM
To: ATR-Agricultural Workshops
Subject: Comment on upcoming Concentration in Agriculture hearings
Attach: Department of Justice.doc


Steve Gilman
Policy Coordinator
Northeast Organic Farming Association
12/31/09

U.S. Department of Justice
Legal Policy Section
Antitrust Division

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the 
unprecedented series of joint hearings that the United States 
Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice will hold in 
2010 on the concentration of ownership and restriction of competition 
in agriculture.

Such scrutiny is long overdue and NOFA applauds this investigative 
and enforcement activity. These hearings should at long last address 
the broad implications of ongoing anti-competitive practices in the 
agriculture sector. A combination of vigorous enforcement, 
regulation, and legislation will be needed to restore competition and 
level the playing field.

Due to consolidation a handful of companies dominate our food supply. 
As a result, prices are rising, research and innovation are 
restricted, fair contracts are difficult to negotiate, and farmers' 
and consumers' choices are limited. The problem is accelerating and 
getting much worse as the effects of concentration affect all aspects 
of the food system from seed research to what is available on the 
supermarket shelf.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) is a regional, 
grassroots, non-profit organic farming organization representing over 
5,000 farmers, gardeners and consumers. NOFA is one of the oldest 
organic farming associations in the country and is comprised of seven 
separate state organizations: NOFA-NY, NOFA-VT, NOFA-NH, NOFA/MASS; 
CT-NOFA, NOFA-RI and NOFA-NJ. NOFA works regionally with groups in 
the North East Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) and is 
a charter member of both the National Organic Coalition (NOC and the 
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Further 
information may be found at our website: www.nofa.org


NOFA members continue to negatively experience the excessive 
concentration in the food system in numerous ways:

ï½·      Over the past five years, the price of seed for farms and 
gardens has risen dramatically due to the consolidation in the seed 
industry. Many small regional seed companies have been swallowed up 
by larger seed companies. Varieties that are well-adapted to specific 
regional areas are no longer available for sale.

ï½·      Certified organic farmers have not been able to use favored 
varieties because of contamination of the seed by GMOs as was the 
case in 2008, when the supply of a popular sweet corn variety was 
contaminated with GMOs.

ï½·      Farmers do not have the explicit right to bargain 
collectively, which they need in order to level the playing field and 
negotiate fair contracts.

ï½·      Similarly, prices for certified organic and natural food 
products have risen faster than the cost of living because a single 
supplier, United Natural Foods, has bought up dozens of smaller, 
cooperative warehouses, exercising monopoly control of the 
distribution of packaged natural foods in the NE.

ï½·      Small scale produce processing plants and meat processing 
plants have been put out of business by larger scale companies. New 
York State livestock farmers, for instance, must travel to 
Pennsylvania to obtain the services of a USDA certified meat 
processing plant.

ï½·      Where competing processors for apple products used to provide 
apple farmers with a choice of markets, Motts now dominates the 
market in NYS and sets the prices for processing apples. Farmers who 
do not cooperate with Mott may find themselves without a buyer.

ï½·      The price of milk paid to dairy farmers has been at a multi-
year low in 2009 because of the absence of processor competition in 
the milk market.

ï½·      Farmers seeking non-GMO seed for corn and soybeans have a 
difficult time locating seed sources because of the dominating 
control by Monsanto. Farmers fear Monsanto will extend this control 
to vegetable seed because of their 2005 purchase of Seminis, the 
world's largest vegetable seed company. Further, farmers are losing 
their right to save seed, and independent seed companies are 
disappearing. More than 200 have been bought up or gone out of 
business since 1996.

ï½·      Seed cost and other inputs are rising to historic highs while 
the prices farmers receive for their crops are falling.

ï½·      Patents and licensing agreements severely restrict plant 
breeders' and researchers' access to genetic material and prevent 
researchers from testing existing varieties.

ï½·      Public universities and land grant programs are increasingly 
dependent on funding from private companies instead of public funds. 
As a result, publicly-owned seeds and breeds are dwindling, and 
innovation is declining.

ï½·      Manufacturers of GE crops are not held liable for 
contamination of farmers' crops, while farmers are being aggressively 
pursued by seed company legal departments  for possessing proprietary 
traits resulting from that contamination, even when the GE content 
provides no economic benefit.

ï½·      Secretive contracts often leave farmers with little financial 
or legal control over their situations and take away their right to 
privacy.

ï½·      The Packers and Stockyards Act prohibits unfair practices in 
the poultry industry, but it is rarely enforced because enforcement 
authority is split between the USDA and the Justice Department.

ï½·      Lack of regional competition and unstated collusion between 
poultry companies restrict contract farmers' options. Further, the 
ranking system for contract poultry farmers is not based on true 
competition, and farmers who lose poultry contracts are not able to 
recapture their initial investments.

Farmers and consumers deserve an open and vital marketplace -- and 
fair practices demand it. The future of a free and unbound 
agriculture in this country depends on a vital family farm 
infrastructure working together with independent companies and 
publicly-supported research. These hearings have the potential to be 
an important step in restoring fairness and competition. We hope the 
Justice Department working with USDA will use these comments to 
determine the scope and the tenor of the upcoming hearings.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on these important issues.

Sincerely,

Steve Gilman
NOFA Policy Coordinator

Updated April 7, 2016

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