In comments submitted today to the Department of Justice (DOJ), The American Meat Institute (AMI) said that existing anti-trust and competition statutes are equally applicable and effective for the meat industry and all industries, and that efforts to regulate the meat industry in a unique way are ill-conceived and should not be implemented.
AMI filed its comments in response to an August 27, 2009, Federal Register notice detailing DOJ and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to hold public workshops in a series of cities in 2010 to respond to concerns expressed by some agricultural producers about “changes in the agricultural marketplace, including increasing processor concentration in some commodities.”
According to AMI’s comments, the meat and poultry industry is one of the most intensely regulated industries in the economy, with arguably only the nuclear energy industry subject to as much daily scrutiny. Regulation and oversight have increased in the last two decades in response to new food safety issues, such as E. coli O157:H7 in beef and Listeria monocytogenes on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products.
“One could argue forcefully that the growing scientific knowledge base that leads to evolving food safety policies, and hence a much safer food supply, has also contributed to a more concentrated meat industry,” said Mark D. Dopp, senior vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel. Dopp detailed in the comments that during the last two decades and in response to regulatory policies such as the 1994 declaration that E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef is an adulterant or the 1996 Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point/Pathogen Reduction Final Rule, a number of small and mid-sized family owned meat and poultry companies have taken action to protect themselves by cashing out or merging with other larger, more diversified companies.
Supplemental comments from antitrust expert Stephen Calkins, professor of law at Wayne State University and former General Counsel to the Federal Trade Commission, explained that antitrust laws such as the Sherman Act are considered the “Magna Carta” of free enterprise and are written in such a way that they may be applied by courts with consideration to evolving economic understanding and particular facts.
In its comments, AMI also stressed the importance of engaging persons with specific, substantive expertise at each of the planned public meetings. AMI recommended that the nominated panelists be divided into four categories: packers/processors; legal/antitrust attorneys; finance/banking; and economists and academicians.
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