The DOJ/USDA investigation is officially examining “Agriculture and Antitrust Enforcement Issues in Our 21st Century Economy.”
But wait, don’t fall asleep yet! “Antitrust” is what we mean by “corporate concentration.” Antitust laws are supposed to make sure that one person or company doesn’t hold too much concentrated power in any industry –doesn’t have a monopoly. The problem when one company controls too much of the market is that it can then singlehandedly set prices for consumers and producers (competition is supposed to keep prices reasonable), and make it impossible for competitors to get into the market.
Food and agriculture are two of the most concentrated sectors in the US economy. When the top four firms in an industry together control more than 50% of the market, it’s considered getting towards monopoly conditions. In the US, four companies process over 80% of the beef. Another four companies process over 66% of the chicken. Three companies process over 70% of soy. And just one company, Monsanto, controls 90% of the seed supply. (All numbers from the Heffernan/Hendrickson fact sheet linked below.)
Clearly, enforcement of antitrust law in agriculture seems to be a problem. Here’s some easy-to-read resources to learn more.
- Definitions of “antitrust,” some history of antitrust laws, and descriptions of different kinds of antitrust violations.
- Written by Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan at the University of Missouri. Excellent statistics showing the market share of the top several companies in livestock, grain, supermarkets, and others. (From April 2007, prior to several large mergers; more updated statistics are difficult to find).
- Detailed new report on corporate control over seeds.
And a few other reports:
- Statement and Overview by the Competition and Concentration Committee of the National Campaign for Sustinable Agriculture
- Transition Report On Competition Policy-Fighting Food Inflation Through Competition
- Agriculture and Anti-Trust Enforcement in Our 21st Century Economy