Just Foods Program Director Michael Sligh is in Ankeny, Iowa, today for the first in a series of joint hearings held by the USDA and Justice Department to investigate issues of competition and concentrated ownership in agriculture.
Today’s workshop will introduce the series and will focus on issues affecting crop farmers, including “seed technology, vertical integration, market transparency and buyer power.” (The Organic Seed Alliance is blogging from the hearing all day, if you’re interested in following the proceedings.)
These are critical issues for family farms. According to the 2009 report “Out of Hand: Farmers Face the Consequences of a Consolidated Food Industry,”
Ten companies account for about two-thirds (65 percent) of the world’s proprietary seed – that is, branded varieties subject to intellectual property protections – for major crops. Economists say that an industry has lost it’s competitive character when the concentration ration of the top four firms (CR4) is 40 percent of higher. In seed, the top four firms account for 50 percent of the proprietary market alone, and 43 percent of the commercial market, which includes both proprietary and public varieties. This level of concentration has proven problematic, reducing choice and increasing prices for the average American farmer…As smaller, independent companies vanish from the landscape, farmers see fewer options and higher prices in the marketplace.
This hearing lasts one day, but the USDA and Justice Department are accepting comments on these issues through the end of this year. Send them a message, and let them know you support fair, competitive markets.
A map of the seed industry 1996 - 2008, by Phillip Howard, Michigan State University