Merger Enforcement in U.S. Food Industry Markets

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Logan Breed, Wesley Carson, Jun 30, 2014

During the Obama Administration, the U.S. competition authorities have made food and agriculture a priority for antitrust enforcement. These efforts, undertaken by both the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Competition of the Federal Trade Commission, have concentrated primarily on preventing anticompetitive harm to buyers and sellers in food industries through merger enforcement mechanisms. While antitrust authorities can, and have, investigated other anticompetitive conduct such as price-fixing, bid-rigging, and market allocation, recent enforcement actions have made clear that mergers are of primary importance in the agricultural space.

In August 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder organized a series of cooperative workshops between DOJ and the United States Department of Agriculture exploring competition issues in the agriculture industry. Those workshops brought together industry participants at all levels of manufacturing and distribution and were designed to enhance the U.S. antitrust authorities’ understanding of competition issues facing these markets. As a result of those workshops, DOJ identified two main areas of concern in the agricultural sector that could be addressed by the antitrust laws: (1) anticompetitive mergers and (2) unlawful acquisitions or maintenance of monopsony power.