|This document is also available in PDF format (comparable to original document formatting). To view the PDF you will need Acrobat Reader, which may be downloaded from the Adobe site.|
Comment Number: AGW-14412
|Sent:||Thursday, December 31, 2009 2:06 PM|
|Subject:||Comment on upcoming Concentration in Agriculture hearings|
|Attach:||Department of Justice.doc|
Northeast Organic Farming Association
U.S. Department of Justice
Legal Policy Section
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
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
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
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
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.
NOFA Policy Coordinator