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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Agriculture Workshop


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Secretary Vilsack. And thank you all for joining us. I know that many of you have traveled great distances to be here. And the perspectives that you are bringing – from the Mississippi Delta and South Dakota; from Connecticut, California, and communities in between – will be critical to today’s discussion.

You represent many different regions, areas of expertise, and positions in the agriculture supply chain. And you represent nearly every sector of one of our nation’s oldest – and most critical – industries. Regardless of your vantage point, as we turn our attention to pricing margins at all levels of the agriculture industry – including the retail sector – I have no doubt that this workshop, like the previous four that we’ve held this year, will provide important learning opportunities for all of us.

Before we get started, I want to thank Secretary Vilsack and his team for hosting us and for their partnership in conducting this workshop series. I also want to recognize the outstanding efforts of Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney and the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. At each workshop, I have been impressed with the Division’s work in making the vision of these conversations a reality. And now that we find ourselves at the final workshop, it is clear that their contributions are paying off. We’ve learned a tremendous amount from farmers and producers – and from industry executives and experts. And I have every expectation that the fruits of this workshop series will benefit the agriculture industry for years to come.

Over the last nine months, we have discussed everything from vertical integration and dairy prices to the implications of the Packers and Stockyards Act and leading poultry industry challenges. Secretary Vilsack and I have had the chance to hear directly from hardworking farmers and producers, business professionals, economists, and elected officials. And the impact that these conversations has had on our thinking – and on the enforcement strategies we’re developing – has been profound.

Of course, we know that antitrust enforcement actions will not solve every problem. But, because of the insights you’ve provided, when the circumstances warrant legal intervention, I believe that we will be better prepared to take the steps necessary to ensure a fair and competitive agricultural marketplace – for both producers and consumers.

What’s been clear throughout this workshop series – and in the thousands of public comments that we have received over the past year – is that America’s farmers and producers work hard. And they want to keep working hard. They are not asking for a handout. What they want is a level playing field – nothing more, nothing less.

That means that they want market transparency, market access, and market fairness. And in my view, in Secretary Vilsack’s view, and in President Obama’s view – that’s exactly what they deserve.

Vigorous – and appropriate – enforcement is an essential component of our commitment to ensuring market fairness and robust competition. In addition to this workshop series, our commitment has resulted in a Joint Task Force between the Departments of Justice and Agriculture that is focusing on agriculture markets and industry issues. And it has resulted in a simple and accessible online submission process for reporting concerns and complaints. That process is outlined on the Justice Department’s website, and I urge all of you to utilize it to keep us informed of any complaints you may have about unfair or deceptive practices.

I also want to be clear about something: the critical channel of communication that we have opened this past year will remain open. And the Departments of Justice and Agriculture will continue working in close coordination to address your concerns and to ensure fairness and opportunity for America’s farmers, producers, and agriculture industry.

I am proud that collaboration between our two agencies has never been stronger – and that this new level of cooperation is driving meaningful, measurable progress. Just last week, our joint efforts to resolve long-running litigation reached a new level with the House passage of the Claims Settlement Act. This legislation represents an historic step in ensuring that farmers who faced discrimination by their government finally receive the justice they deserve. It also plants the seeds for a transformed relationship between the federal government and the many Americans who rely on a fair and effective claims process.

And while I’m proud of this – and of all that has been achieved this year – I recognize that we still have further to go.

After workshops on seed, poultry, dairy, and livestock issues, today we turn our attention to a matter that cuts across all facets of the agriculture industry: pricing margins. I understand that this issue, like many others we have encountered, is nuanced – that it is not black-or-white. I realize that when farmers don’t receive their fair share, it can pose a serious threat to industry sustainability.

And to ensure a fair and competitive agricultural marketplace for farmers, producers, and consumers alike – I know that pricing margins must be more fully understood.  

So, I look forward to a candid, and informative, conversation today – and to further discussions in the weeks and months ahead.

These workshops have marked an important and unprecedented chapter in public-private collaboration. And although this is the last workshop, it is not the final chapter.

As our conversations carry forward, I expect that our enforcement efforts will continue to be sharpened and strengthened. And I am confident that our nation will remain a great place to do business.

Thank you all, once again, for your participation – and for your commitment to the goals we share: justice, fairness, and opportunity for all.

Updated August 19, 2015