Friday, May 21, 2010 in Huntsville, Alabama, the United States Justice Department and the United States Department of Agriculture held a hearing on competition and concentration of ownership in the poultry industry. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack moderated the morning panel, and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke as well.
Former grower Kay Doby testified about being forced to buy equipment upgrades, the unfair ranking system, and the real cost of injustice for farm families:
The hearing made it clear that the problems in the industry are systemic and not simply the experience of a few isolated growers. A majority of people on both the morning and afternoon panels at the workshop talked about the need for government action due to the lack of competition in the poultry industry. In addition, 32 growers gave public comments, three additional growers had their comments read (one could not attend and the other two feared retaliation), and three organizations spoke in support of contract reform.
Every grower who showed up to the hearing did so at the risk of retaliation by the poultry companies. Because RAFI expressed concern that some growers might not speak up due to fear of retaliation, farmers also had a chance to speak with representatives of the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration privately during the event.
Alabama grower Garry Staples spoke about his fears of retaliation by the poultry company during the morning panel. US Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney answered his concerns. “I fully expect that you will not experience retaliation,” she said, and she gave him a piece of paper. “But if you do, call me at that number.”
Secretary Vilsack said the workshop was “long overdue,” and called for viable, fair and competitive markets. He told growers to continue to speak out about their situations. He also announced that the USDA and Justice Department will form a joint task force to investigate competition in agricultural markets.
Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, Christine Varney, said that over 15,000 comments on concentration and competition in agriculture have been submitted so far.
RAFI and our supporters worked to ensure that farmers who wanted to attend the hearing could be there. Last Thursday, RAFI and the other members of the Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform made sure the farmers had a chance to explain to the press what was at stake and the changes that would make conditions more fair.
Friday, farmers stood up and told their stories, and they were heard. We look forward to seeing what comes next.