SEN. GRASSLEY HOLDS A NEWS TELECONFERENCE
GRASSLEY: I want to start out by telling you about a bill that
I'm going reintroduce next year. And it's a bill that we put in that
got in late, and it was also a topic of conversation I had with the
new attorney general designee, Eric Holder.
You folks know I often speak about the Justice Department's lack
of focus on agriculture competition issues. I've harped on the
department's anti-trust officials to pay attention to the impact on
farmers and independent producers as well as consumers because you
probably know that anti-trust laws are meant to protect consumers more
than they are manufacturers. But in the case of farmers, we are
producers and consumers as well.
Recently, I was encouraged by the Justice Department's action to
block the acquisition by the third largest U.S. beef packer, JBS -- or
the fourth largest beef packer, national beef packing company. So
last week, when I met with President Obama's nominee for attorney
general, I explained to him that the agriculture industry is very
particular because it's highly concentrated. And there's a potential
for unfair and anti-competitive behavior.
I stressed to Eric Holder the need for department to be more
proactive in monitoring unfair practices and scrutinizing mergers in
the agriculture sector. In the past, they have not given nearly
enough credence to anti-trust issues in agriculture. It's time for
the department to step up to the plate and help maintain a competitive
marketplace for farmers as well as consumers.
In the next year, I'll continue my efforts in Congress to help
give family farmers a level playing field. I plan to reintroduce my
bill to create the agriculture competition task force. It requires
the Justice Department to issue agriculture-specific competition
guidelines, shifts the burden of proof in agri-business mergers to the
defendant, and requires the Justice Department and the Federal Trade
Commission to conduct a post-merger review of the largest agri-
I'll also be introducing the packer ban again with Senator
I'm ready for questions, and I'll let you call the names.
OPERATOR: OK. Dan at Successful Farming.
QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning, Senator.
GRASSLEY: Good morning.
QUESTION: If, indeed, Governor -- Former Governor Vilsack
becomes the secretary of agriculture, are you optimistic that he will
more vigorously enforce payment limits than previous ag secretaries?
GRASSLEY: No. You know what? I believe -- I believe he will,
but I'd also say that to anybody else that would be designated
secretary by this president. I believe that you're going to find more
aggressive action of enforcing laws and making sure that congressional
intent is followed, particularly, in the area where we haven't had
enforcement of people who make too much money taking advantage of the
QUESTION: Is there any particular basis for that belief?
GRASSLEY: Well, I would stress it this way that when Democrats
tend to be in power, the National Farmer's Union and all the farm
organizations tend to have a greater voice in agriculture, at least,
have their positions -- have a higher level of consideration.
And they've been leaders in this area. Now, the Farm Bureau has
helped quite a bit. But the Farm Bureau being a larger farm
organization is divided between agricultural interests of Southeast
America as well as California versus the Midwest and kind of what I'd
call the mega-producers versus family farm producers.
And so the Farm Bureau has had kind of a not as unified position
as the National Farmer's Union has had. And it's based upon my
belief. It may not materialize, but I think it's been true in the
past. The Farmer's Union tends to have -- be listened to a bit more
and have their policies carried out a little bit more by Democrat
administrations than the Republican ones.
QUESTION: OK. Thank you very much.
OPERATOR: Tom at WNAX?
QUESTION: Senator, good morning.
GRASSLEY: Good morning.
QUESTION: Senator, it was -- it was reported that JBS and the
Justice Department and the attorney generals are now asking the judge
to set aside the anti-trust laws while they try to settle out of
court, perhaps, involving JBS getting rid of some of their packing
I'm just curious your thoughts on that development.
GRASSLEY: I hope that that doesn't happen. I've seen, in the
case of Continental and Cargill joining forces, that it was anti-
competitive, but then there was negotiations to sell off some
Continental. And you still had kind of a mega-merger or a merger of
megas, I guess you'd say. And it's the same way here.
And I think you'd end of having such a merger, but it would be
still, from my judgment, bad for the family farmers. And so I hope
that doesn't happen.
On the other hand, if judges decide to set things apart, they're
in the judicial branch of government and there's not much I can do
OPERATOR: Gene, Iowa Farmer Today?
Tom at Brownfield?
QUESTION: Good morning, Senator. What do you think will be,
from your standpoint now, what do you think will be the biggest
advantage for Iowa with the -- with Governor Vilsack's appointment to
GRASSLEY: Well, I'll repeat a little bit that I just said here
about anti-trust but not dealing with anti-trust, but you know how I
divided up agriculture in America. The mega-producers of the
Southeast and California versus the family farmers of the Midwest.
And I don't mean there aren't family farmers in the Southeast or
California, but it seems like the voice of agriculture from the
Southeast and California tend to be the mega-producers where the voice
from the Midwest is the family farmer.
And I think the family farmer is a strength of American
agriculture. And I think Secretary Vilsack understands that and
appreciates it living his adult life in Iowa that he will be a
spokesman for that. Not meaning that he's not going to be fair to
other segments of agriculture, but I think his familiarity with
agriculture in Iowa is going to strengthen the voice of the family
farmer in the Department of Agriculture. I think that's the biggest
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Ken at WHO?
QUESTION: Good morning, Senator. I know you've probably done so
a few times, but could you give me your reaction to the word that Tom
Vilsack may well be next U.S. secretary of agriculture?
GRASSLEY: Well, I am very happy to give it. You know, when he
was first being suggested or at least his name was being tossed
around, I was elated. And then three weeks later, he announced that
he wasn't being considered, and I was disappointed and, of course, it
was a complete surprise to me that he was ended up being the secretary
So I react very positively to it for the reason that I think the
more Iowans we get in the executive branch of government, the whole
executive branch and the whole country is better off because of the
work ethic of Iowans.
And then in the case of Vilsack being secretary of agriculture, I
think Iowa is going benefit from it. American agriculture is going to
benefit from it. And more specifically, within agriculture, the
institution of the family farm, because it's 95 percent of how
agriculture in Iowa is conducted, it's going to strengthen the voice
of the American institution of the family farm in the U.S. Department
And I think that that's where Iowa benefits so much and
agriculture benefits so much.
QUESTION: May I follow that with a question regarding the
cabinet-level positions that have been appointed by the Obama
administration of what you think their agenda may be for environmental
and agricultural issues?
GRASSLEY: Well, I believe -- I know that environment and
agriculture are tied together and some environmental issues affect
agriculture very generally. But I think I would separate that, if
you'd allow me to, into two different questions. One for agriculture
and one for environment.
And I would hope that the Department of Agriculture, under
Vilsack, would defend the institution of the family farmer when it
comes to egregious regulations that are being talked about by the EPA
and leaders within the transition team of Obama.
I would expect the Agriculture Department to have very high on
its agenda a lot of trade issues because American agriculture is so
dependent upon trade. And I would think, in the case of the economy
being in the doldrums, that rural economic development would have a
high priority than it normally would within the Department of
On environmental issues, I believe that you're going to find the
push for an agreement on global warming to be number one. And that
could have a negative impact upon agriculture if you include
agriculture in that. And then there's some other environmental
regulations like the possible cow tax that we have to worry about that
could be coming from EPA.
QUESTION: Thank you, Senator.
OPERATOR: Dan at KICD?
QUESTION: Good morning, Senator. In the beginning, you
mentioned that you met with Attorney General Nominee Eric Holder about
the concentration in agriculture. You didn't mention a reaction. Did
he have a reaction to your comments?
GRASSLEY: I think he was -- no, he didn't have. And I didn't
necessarily want to get into a debate with him because he's going come
before our committee, and I'm not going to be able to ask him or
present all the issues that I presented to him. But for the benefit
of his hearing it from me and the note takers that were with him, I
wanted to get on the agenda a long list of things. And I kind of went
through that list and didn't necessarily ask for a reaction, just
telling him my views.
OPERATOR: OK. Stacia from National Farm Broadcasters?
(UNKNOWN): There appears to be another microphone open as well.
We can hear some other noise.
OPERATOR: OK. I don't know who that is, and we'll try to figure
it out, Ken, as well. But please keep your phones on mute if you're
on the phone.
QUESTION: Following up on the senator's earlier response
concerning environmental issues, Senator, I wonder if you expect the
Obama administration to roll back some of the recent environmental
actions taken by EPA and other agencies. Most recently, of course, we
had the ruling that CAFOs will not be required to report noxious
emissions under the Clean Air Act.
GRASSLEY: Deep down in my heart, I do believe that they will. I
have no -- nothing from the Obama people to draw that conclusion. I
do believe, though, that the rules that are out there, they're in
force, it's going to take them a longer period of time to either
modify them or adjust them back.
But I believe that within the Obama administration -- and I'm not
accusing Obama of this -- but there's a lot of people that -- outside
of agriculture that have wanted to include more environmental
regulation on farmers. For what reasons, I guess, probably a reason
that just nothing ought to be excluded from their point of view. And
then within agriculture, you have a few people who want to use
environmental regulation to change agriculture to some extent.
And from that standpoint, I think that EPA is going through a lot
OPERATOR: Philip at the Register?
QUESTION: Yes, Senator. What -- I wanted to ask you -- I wanted
to follow up on EPA, but first of all, I wanted to ask you about what
is the biggest challenge that Governor Vilsack is going to face at
USDA in terms of issues that he has to -- or issue that he has to deal
with? The Farm Bill is -- there won't be a Farm Bill for a while, but
what's going to be the most important challenge that he's going to
GRASSLEY: Well, if it -- let's say if it comes to this business
that I've been asked about -- I don't know if it was this program or
another program -- about the enforcement of payment limitations and
reporting requirements and some people not getting farm payments.
That's -- you know, we've had -- part of what we're trying to get
done, we've had in the law going back to 1987.
Whether or not you were involved, I don't know the exact words,
but involved in the business of agriculture is tied by definition. If
you weren't involved in that business, you weren't entitled to any
payments. That hasn't been enforced.
But when he start enforcing that -- and I hope he will -- it's
going to be a battle between a lot of interests in agriculture that
have been getting away with murder. And I would say those are the
biggest, wealthiest producers. He's going to hear from them. And
he's going to have to stick to his guns. But I hope he would enforce
Another area is the -- is the agribusiness influence within the
Packers and Stockyards Act not to fully use the law to the extent it
can be used because, quite frankly, it's a stronger law than anti-
trust for the benefit of its use in agriculture.
And if he would decide to actively push the enforcement of the
Packers and Stockyards Act, he's going to get a big pushback from
agribusiness, but he's going to be doing one of the best things that
can level the playing field for the family farmer, particularly, those
who want to hit the spot market in the selling of their livestock, as
Another area where he's going to get some pushback -- and I'm --
and I think that because he's so much for alternative energy, it's a
good thing to have him there -- but the extent to which the food for
fuel debate is going to heat up again. It's already heated up. You
know when I gave my speech in March against the Grocery Manufacturers
Association, you didn't hear much until maybe a month ago. But that
group is getting geared up because they think maybe a new team in town
under Obama would -- they'd be a little more received.
And so I would expect Vilsack to be a moderating voice in that
area. I wouldn't necessarily expect him to take exactly the same
position I've taken, but I would expect him to be quite a defender of
biofuels. And we will need that, too, when we're fighting with EPA to
get higher mixture of ethanol like E-11, 12, 13, 14, 15 or some people
are even hoping to get it up to 20.
It would be very important to have somebody like Vilsack standing
up to the -- to EPA as a voice for agriculture on that issue.
QUESTION: Could you ask you real quick what you think about the
-- Obama's environmental team? Lisa Jackson at EPA -- particularly,
Lisa Jackson at EPA and, to some extent, Carol Brown over at the White
House overseeing the...
GRASSLEY: You know, it's not a very good answer to your
question, and I wouldn't want it to be considered a definitive
position on my part. But they have reputations that go back to where
they were previously in public service or, in the case of Brown, quite
a while in the Clinton administration.
And I have -- I have a view that they are going to have -- that
they will lend quite an ear to most anything that environmental lobby
wants to accomplish. And it doesn't -- when I say lend an ear, I
don't want to leave the impression that I expect these people to do
exactly what the environmental lobby wants, but for eight years, that
lobby has felt that they've been shut out and they got their
opportunity to catch up.
And I think these folks would be inclined to help them catch up.
I hope I'm wrong on that.
OPERATOR: OK. Does anybody have a follow-up or got added late?
QUESTION: Yes. This is Dan Looker.
You mentioned -- sir, you mentioned the food versus fuel debate.
Earlier, you talked about the influence the Farmer's Union may have in
the new administration or some of their ideas. One of the policies
the Farmer's Union has had on the books for quite a while and they
haven't really lobbied aggressively for it, but it calls for a grain
reserve for farmer-owned ethanol plants.
And I wondered if you think that that might be a good idea given
the scare we had in the markets last summer just from flooding. And
it seems that we could have the same issue really intensified if we
ever had a serious drought.
What do you think of the Farmer's Union's proposal for a grain
reserve just for the ethanol industry?
GRASSLEY: Grain reserves tend to be a damper on the market
because they're a known quantity. And somebody is going to trigger
when the grain reserve is opened up. And everybody factors that into
price. It tends to be a damper on the -- on the -- on pricing. And
-- and -- and it tends to then frustrate the marketplace.
QUESTION: Senator, one other sort of along that line. Is there
any -- has there been some discussions about including something in
the stimulus bill for -- for ethanol to help the industry through this
-- through this period? Is there anything that you see they should or
could get included in the stimulus?
GRASSLEY: Well, I'd have to look at that a little bit like I
looked at my vote on the -- on the ethanol -- on the car bailout. You
know, I voted for the TARP because it was -- it was affecting the
credit crunch on a macroeconomic basis or just -- let's just say on a
macro basis. Whereas, where do you stop if you're going to affect the
car industry? How do I say no to the ethanol industry, et cetera, et
cetera, et cetera?
And I think what we -- our fight better is to keep in place the
things we have now to encourage ethanol industry. The tax incentive,
the RFS, and the tariff thing as the best thing to keep the industry
OPERATOR: OK. Anybody else?
GRASSLEY: OK. Thank you all very much.