The first of five forums on competition in agriculture was held Friday in Ankeny by the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Ag Secretary. Christine Varney, the Assistant U.S. Attorney General in charge of antitrust cases also was on hand and was asked what the government will do about concerns raised at the forums. Varney says they are already taking action when it’s needed.
Varney says the Department of Justice never comments on anongoing investigations, but they have confirmed they are investigating “potential anticompetative practices in the seed industry.” She says when anticompetative practices happen they will “try very hard” to look at them, to understand the consequences to the economy and the intersection with the antitrust laws.
Varney says bringing the Justice Department together with the Ag Department allows them to look at a variety of regulations. She says there is a very robust patent system in the U.S. and if a patent is abused to extend and maintain a monopoly, then it is not legal. Varney says not every big company is a bad company, and not all misused the power they have with a monopoly.
Varney says there are a number of steps they go through, as she says not every patent used by successful companies is used to maintain or extend their monopoly. But she says there is an intersection between the antitrust laws and the patent laws, and that is something they look at in every investigation. Varney says she won’t prejudge and situation before they fully hear all the information.
“There is a lot of consolidation in certain sectors of the agricultural economy, and with a lot of market power comes a lot of responsibility to behave in a pro-competative manner,” Varney says. But she says she doesn’t know what that means yet for the concerns they will hear from the ag industry.
Varney says this is the first of five forums on ag competition, and they have also received 15,000 comments, so they have a lot more work to do. Varney says this is historic as it’s the first time the Justice Department and Ag Department of come together to look at these issue.