During a Judiciary Committee hearing on antitrust issues today, U.S. Senator Herb Kohl received a commitment from the Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice Antitrust Division to bring a workshop on agriculture competition to Wisconsin. Last month, Kohl called on the Justice Department (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to scrutinize antitrust enforcement in the dairy industry, focusing on the consolidation of milk processors and anticompetitive practices in agriculture, and urged them to hold a workshop on dairy in Wisconsin, as part of upcoming series of DOJ/USDA workshops about agriculture competition.
"Dairy farmers across the nation are facing acute economic pain. They are being battered by a perfect storm' of high input costs and historically low dairy prices. They've lost more than $4 billion in equity. Their stories are compelling and painful and we have to find a better system," Kohl told Christine Varney, the Assistant Attorney General who testified before the Judiciary Committee today.
"As you know, there's a lot of complexity in dairy markets," Kohl continued. "And there's growing concern that concentration and consolidation on the processor side is hurting dairy farmers. Some time ago you and the Secretary of Agriculture announced a series of workshops to look specifically at antitrust in agriculture. I'd like an update on your progress and a commitment that at least one of your workshops will delve specifically into dairy issues and will occur in Wisconsin."
Varney agreed to Kohl's requests, and information about the date and location of the joint DOJ/USDA workshop will be shared when it becomes available.
Kohl is Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations panel and Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. He worked to abolish the anticompetitive Northeast Dairy compact and was an original architect of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program. Kohl has continued to work for the agriculture industry and local farmers by including farm credit provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Congress passed earlier this year. He has pushed the Administration to fully implement programs like the Dairy Export Incentive Program to help offset low prices. Kohl also fought to include the feed cost adjuster for the MILC program in the 2008 Farm Bill. Kohl most recently included $350 million for dairy farmers as part of the FY2010 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.