Next week, the federal departments of justice and agriculture will hold the first in a series of public workshops about antitrust laws, competition and agriculture. The Mar. 12 event in Ankeny, Iowa, will focus on crop-based farming operations, while later events will look at dairy, poultry and livestock. But there’s one odd element to the day’s format: while created to “promote dialogue” and “listen to and learn from parties with real-world experience in the agricultural sector,” the USDA/DOJ event only allows for one hour of public comment. Plus, the invited panel of 23 experts includes only one farmer.
The unprecedented USDA/DOJ workshops will be held around the country throughout the rest of the year, with events in Alabama, Colorado and Wisconsin, and a culminating conference in Washington in December. But the inaugural event next week has raised the ire of farm activists. Feeling left out of Friday’s daylong event in Ankeny, they’re holding a town hall the previous night as a kind of shadow convention, the Iowa Independent reports.
“After years of ignoring the corporate concentration and lack of competition in our food system, the DOJ and the USDA are finally admitting that there might be a problem,” said Dave Murphy of Clear Lake and affiliated with Food Democracy Now. “Unfortunately, family farmers, consumer advocates, and organized labor are underrepresented on the panels at the DOJ/USDA anti-trust workshop. This grassroots townhall meeting is essential to ensure that the voices of people most affected by this problem are heard loud and clear.”
But it’s possible the workshops will include more people who actually make a living on the land after all. This morning, Iowa Independent reporter Lynda Waddington asked U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin to comment on the dearth of farmers on the panels.
His reply, in part: “My office didn’t set the schedule, but we will be asking the DOJ and USDA to include more farmers and processors in these discussions.”