Consolidation station: NPR's John Burnett shines a spotlight on agribusiness consolidation, the control of the food system by an ever-smaller group of mega-companies. Independent farmers and ranchers are pushing the Obama Administration to take a good, long look at the factors that brought us to where we are today--with 2 percent of farms accounting for half of all farm sales.
Says Burnett, "Frustrated farmers claim the operative philosophy of President Bush's antitrust division was, 'Let's make a deal.'" That led to mergers that created the new Dean Foods, now the nation's largest milk company; that allowed already giant Smithfield Foods to snap up its #2 competitor, Premium Standard Farms; and that gave the green light to Brazilian beef giant JBS to purchase Smithfield Beef.
But the Obama Administration has signaled a willingness to examine consolidation with a critical eye. The Justice Department will hold hearings around the country next year on anti-competitive practices in agricultural markets. Burnett will be following up on this story with one on the dairy crisis tonight on All Things Considered. (NPR) (The Ethicurean covered the Justice Department's announcement here.)
More grist for the mill: This is the newest positive sign that the administration is at least skeptical of, if not opposed to, Big Ag monopolies. The first good sign was the appointment of J. Dudley Butler to head the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, the agency in USDA charged with ensuring fairness and fighting anti-competitive practices in grain and meat markets. We reported on his appointment here; columnist Alan Guebert covers him this week on Farm and Food File and hopes that pressure from meat packers won't send Dudley, um, packing. (Farm and Dairy)