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Justice Pursuing Antitrust Leads in Agribusiness, Varney Says

Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The Justice Department is pursuing several leads on possible anti-competition cases in agribusiness after a series of hearings on the issue, according to Christine Varney, the head of the agency’s antitrust division.

The public sessions on consolidation in agriculture have opened communication between farmers and Justice, Varney said today at a news conference during the final hearing in Washington. The hearings, conducted with the Department of Agriculture, have explored how big-company dominance affects the prices farmers get for their products and what consumers pay for food.

“We have several leads that came out of these workshops that we are following up on,” Varney said, without being more specific.

Farmers and their lobbyists have asked regulators to examine whether meatpackers such as Tyson Foods Inc. and agribusinesses including Cargill Inc. can control the prices they pay for commodities. A USDA regulation proposed in June would prohibit meatpackers from selling livestock to each other and require them to justify their choice of one farmer-supplier over another.

Farmers also said they are concerned that market power is driving down the amount of the U.S. food dollar farmers receive.

Hearings were previously held in Iowa, Alabama, Wisconsin and Colorado.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Bjerga in Washington at abjerga@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Stroth at sstroth@bloomberg.net.

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