Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) have introduced legislation to provide for greater review of mergers in agriculture by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The legislation:
- Creates an Agriculture Competition Task Force (ACTF) to assist the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission in drafting agriculture antitrust guidelines, examine problems in agriculture competition, and coordinate activities to address anti-competitive practices.
- Directs DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in consultation with a working group of the ACTF, to draft ag-specific guidelines to use when reviewing ag mergers.
- Amends the antitrust laws to shift the burden of proof in agribusiness mergers to the defendant to prove that the merger will not substantially lessen competition or create a monopoly in one or more geographic markets.
- Requires DOJ and FTC to conduct a post-merger review of certain agribusiness mergers (mergers that submitted second requests for information) five years after they’ve been approved.
- Formalizes USDA’s review of ag mergers with the DOJ and FTC so that USDA now will be an integral part of the anti-trust approval process in every ag merger.
- Authorizes additional resources for GIPSA and DOJ to review ag transactions.
- Creates USDA Office of Competition and Fair Practices, headed by Special Counsel for Competition Matters.
- Creates DOJ Deputy Assistant Attorney General with responsibility for ag matters.
Grassley said, “The DOJ has done little to ensure a competitive environment in ag. The lack of enforcement and a propensity to approve ag mega-mergers leads me to believe that we need to beef up our laws to address vertical integration, concentration and predatory business practices. Family farmers and small producers deserve a fighting chance in the marketplace and consumers will also benefit from more vibrant competition in the ag industry. We’ve been tinkering around the edges for several years now. This legislation attempts to deal with the problem head on.”
Similar legislation was introduced in the last Congress.