Thank you, Secretary Vilsack. And thank you all for joining us today. It’s good to be with you, and it’s always great to be in the beautiful state of Alabama. My wife was born and raised about five hours south of here, in Mobile, but this is my first visit to Normal. I want to thank this city, and Alabama A&M, for welcoming us today and hosting this important workshop.
The discussion we’ve gathered to begin reflects an historic collaboration between the Departments of Justice and Agriculture and leaders from across our nation’s agriculture industry. Secretary Vilsack and I are committed to improving our understanding of how particular agricultural markets function. That’s why we’re here. And that’s why we decided to hold a series of five workshops across the country to examine the challenges facing America’s farmers, growers, and producers.
Two months ago, we kicked off this workshop series in Secretary Vilsack’s home state of Iowa, where we focused on the seed industry. That meeting was a great success. We received valuable feedback from those who attended and from those who provided written comments. I fully expect this workshop to be just as useful. Not only do we appreciate your input – quite frankly, we need it. Today, our goal is to develop a clear picture of what competitive issues participants in the poultry market face. But we need your perspective. Your insights can help us fulfill our responsibility to take appropriate action to enforce the Packers and Stockyard Act. They will also enable us to be more effective advocates for competition.
As we begin this important conversation, it’s fitting that we’ve gathered here at Alabama A&M. This university has a long and distinguished tradition of training agriculture industry leaders and, today, is on the cutting-edge of industry advancements. In fact, as we speak, university biotechnologists are making strides in the development of an "allergy-free" peanut. In learning about this, I couldn’t help but think of George Washington Carver, who spent his career working on innovations with peanuts at Tuskegee University. Dr. Carver once said that, "New developments are the products of a creative mind." That’s certainly true. But I believe that new developments – and, more importantly, progress – are also the product of collaboration.
In coming together today, our hope is that we can move forward in meeting our goals to ensure competition, opportunity and fairness in our agriculture markets. Secretary Vilsack and I understand that – as farmers, producers and industry leaders – you face a variety of challenges. We know that some of you have concerns about production contracts. Others are worried about consolidation in our poultry markets. Whether you’re here to talk about antitrust issues or to raise questions about fair contracting and business practices, we look forward to hearing from each of you.
With your engagement, I believe we can move closer to answering the question that’s at the heart of these workshops – the question of whether competition in today’s agriculture industry is as free and fair as it should be. As we work to answer this – and to understand why a growing number of American producers and farmers find it increasingly difficult to survive by doing what they’ve done for decades – I want to assure each of you that the Obama administration is committed to protecting competition vigorously. This is a top priority for today’s Justice Department. But I recognize that the vigorous enforcement of our antitrust laws, while critical, cannot 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 our expertise on the broader regulatory issues that are potentially at play. That’s why our agencies launched the Agriculture Competition Joint Task Force that Secretary Vilsack mentioned. 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 all.