A.M.I.: Current antitrust statutes are effective

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Existing antitrust and competition statutes are equally applicable and effective for the meat industry and all industries — and efforts to regulate the meat industry in a unique way are ill-conceived and should not be implemented. So said the American Meat Institute in comments submitted Jan. 7 to the Department of Justice.

A.M.I. filed its comments in response to an Aug. 27 Federal Register notice detailing D.O.J. and U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to hold public workshops in a number of cities in 2010 to address producers’ concerns about “changes in the agricultural marketplace, including increasing processor concentration in some commodities.”

A.M.I. said in its 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 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 Dopp, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs and general counsel.

Mr. 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, a law professor at Wayne State University and former general counsel to the Federal Trade Commission, explained that antitrust laws such as the Sherman Act are intended to be applied by courts with consideration to evolving economic understanding and particular facts.

“The antitrust system is majestically general and fully capable of evolving as needed to reach right results. If wrong results are being reached, the last thing Congress should do is to draft industry-specific rules. Doing so is both unnecessary and harmful since it would remove part of the impetus for needed evolution in general standards,” he said.

A.M.I. also stressed the importance of engaging persons with specific, substantive expertise at each of the planned public meetings. It recommended the nominated panelists be divided into four categories: packers/processors; legal/antitrust attorneys; finance/banking; and economists and academicians.

Click here to read the complete comments.


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