U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is in Ankeny today along with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for a discussion of competition and regulation in agriculture. Holder opened the discussion today on the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) campus by calling the meeting a “milestone”

Holder says he doesn’t use the word milestone lightly, but he says it’s been 100 years since the Sherman Antitrust Act became law and nearly 90 years since the Pakers and Stockyard Act entered the books. He says in that time the Department of Justice and Department of Agriculture have never come together to discuss competition in the ag industry.

Today’s forum is one of five workshops the former Iowa Governor Vilsack has set up on the issue. Vilsack says they don’t know what specific action might come out of the discussion. Vilsack says they have to be careful to predetermine what result from the workshops. “Certainly they will inform our regulatory process as we continue our work to reinforce the Packers and Stockyard Act for example, as we deal with the farm bill requirements of defining undue preferences and unfair practices,” Vilsack says, “and I think it will also help and assist us in preparing for discussions of the 2013 farm bill.

Holder says his presence with the Ag Secretary shows the commitment to addressing the issues. He says it shows the administration is committed to using all the tools it has to look at the problems that exist in the agricultural sector and to alleviate those problems. “To make sure that we see fairness, that we see transparency, that were are appropriately aggressive, that we don’t stifle innovation,” Holder said. Vilsack says the discussion is all part of the effort to revitalize rural America.

Vilsack says there are a lot of issues they are dealing with regarding rural development and this is a component. He says if the system is not fair and not making it easier for mid-size operations to stay in business, and therefore is leading to further declines in the number of farmers, then it is something they need to address. Vilsack says rural American has been in a recession long before the rest of the country.

He says that’s why rural populations are declining, the population is aging, has less education, less per-capita income and higher poverty and unemployment rates. Vilsack says the workshop allows them to shine the spotlight on the problems in rural areas. Holder says the Justice Department will take action when wrongdoing is found and cited a recent Wisconsin lawsuit over a monopoly in the milk industry. Holder’s assistant also confirmed there is an investigation in to “potentially anticompetative practices” in the seed industry.