New report attacks Monsanto's market power
2.Farm and Food: Trust busters are tardy
NOTE: A new report says intellectual property law and antitrust law are at loggerheads in the transgenic seed industry.
EXTRACT from the new report: "[T]he U.S. seed industry has changed rapidly in the past twenty years. The largest changes include the creation of strongholds of patented technology and the gradual elimination of the numerous regional independent seed companies through consolidation. Resulting increases in concentration in affected markets has been driven largely by the industry's dominant firm, Monsanto."
1.American Antitrust Institute Says Competition in the Transgenic Seed Industry is Impaired by Monsanto
American Antitrust Institute, 23 October 2009
In a White Paper published today, the American Antitrust Institute analyzes the dismal state of competition in the transgenic seed industry. The analysis concludes that agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto possesses the market power to frustrate competition in soybeans, cotton, and corn, potentially slowing innovation and adversely affecting prices, quality, and choices for farmers and ultimate consumers of vitally important commodities. Download the White Paper here.
http://www.antitrustinstitute.org/archives/files/AAI_Platforms and Transgenic Seed_102320091053.pdf
"Transgenic Seed Platforms: Competition Between a Rock and a Hard Place," concludes that antitrust enforcement and/or federal legislative relief is needed. The paper follows recent reports that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the transgenic seed industry. AAI Director and Vice President Diana Moss, the author, concludes that an antitrust investigation should focus on complex seed “platforms” comprised of innovation, genetic traits, and seed markets. Control of patented agricultural biotechnology and distribution channels for transgenic seed are critical access issues that adversely affect competition.
The White Paper notes that patent law and antitrust law are at loggerheads in the transgenic seed industry and that restoring competition will necessitate a resolution to the tension. Antitrust intervention will also require careful and creative thinking about remedies in an industry that is so dominated by a single firm--Monsanto. Moss explained that because the transgenic seed industry is global in scope, antitrust authorities in foreign jurisdictions, especially the European Union, will likely watch developments in the U.S. with care.
Moss recently discussed competitive problems in the transgenic seed industry at the Organization for Competitive Markets conference in St. Louis. Download the presentation here.
2.Farm and Food: Trust busters are tardy
Journal Star, October 31 2009
Almost before her first cup of government coffee cooled, Christine Varney, the antitrust chief at the U.S. Department of Justice since April 20, tossed the Bush administration's antitrust guidelines - described as toothless - out the window.
There's a new collusion cop in town, she explained May 9, and DOJ's "Antitrust Division will be aggressively pursuing cases where monopolists try to use their dominance in the marketplace to stifle competition and harm consumers."
"Hurray!" cried many farmers, ranchers and antitrust attorneys who've been barking at Justice to unleash its legal hounds on Big Meat, Big Milk and Big Seed almost since Adam and Eve accepted a consent decree to give up the apple monopoly.
Six months after laying down that marker, however, Varney and her trust busters have their eyes still fixed on ag but have yet to file one suit to fix ag. Others, though, aren't waiting.
On Aug. 6, three U.S. senators, "encouraged by (her) commitment to take a hard look at dairy industry consolidation," sent Varney a detailed letter on seven milk ventures and lawsuits (mostly involving milk giants Dean Foods, Dairy Farmers of America and National Dairy Holdings) that targeted "areas that we believe are particularly ripe for review."
To ensure Varney got the full flavor of that ripeness the Senate Judiciary Committee held a "field" hearing on dairy antitrust issues in St. Albans, Vt., on Sept. 18. The two senators holding forth were the two senators from the Holstein Kingdom of Vermont: Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Bernie Sanders, chairman - and only member - of the Senate's Independent Party.
The star witness at the hearing was one Christine Varney who, again, pledged her allegiance to antitrust enforcement and to "a careful and comprehensive examination of the marketplace."
A comprehensive examination of the marketplace is exactly what the American Antitrust Institute made public Oct. 23 in its white paper on the seed industry. Written by Diana Moss, the Institute's vice president and senior fellow, the report provides answers to the question in its title, "Transgenic Seed Platforms: Competition Between a Rock and a Hard Place?"
Any look-see into today's seed business, writes Moss, requires a rock-hard look into Monsanto, "the industry's dominant player." She begins that look exactly two sentences into the 29-page report.
"A threshold question," Moss posits, "is whether Monsanto has used its market power to foreclose rivals from market access, harming competition and thereby slowing the pace of innovation and adversely affecting prices, quality, and choice for farmers and consumers of seed products."
Moss's report, online at www.antitrustinstitute.org, raises as many economic points as legal ones.
For example, she wonders if today's fabulous new technologies and evolving views of patents also require new ways to enforce antitrust rules so markets and consumers have the same legal standing as the new technologies.
After all, observes Moss, new technologies that "enjoy widespread and rapid adoption typically experience precipitous declines in cost as innovators-by-doing and competitive pressures drive prices down."
And "just the opposite has occurred in seed and other ag areas, hasn't it?" observes Fred Stokes, executive director of the Organization for Competitive Markets. "Every farmer and rancher knows this and, I now believe, so does Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney."
And so may Monsanto. On Oct. 9, the leader in transgenic seeds announced it had "received questions" from Justice "this year regarding competition in the seed industry."
Early next year Varney and counterparts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture will hear from farmers and ranchers in a series of meetings (rumors suggest four with one in Des Moines, another in Denver) on ag antitrust issues.
Let's all hurry - while there's still something to talk about.