MUSCATINE, Iowa ― Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) backs a moratorium on mergers in the agriculture industry as a way to stop the growing corporate consolidation that is squeezing family farms out of business.
“I think we’ve not only got to have that moratorium, but we have to go further,” the presidential candidate told HuffPost in an interview. “We have to start breaking them up.”
From going after technology companies and taking on pharmaceutical giants, antitrust issues have been a central issue in the early stages of 2020 Democratic presidential race.
Sanders said that “in almost every sector of American society ― agriculture, Wall Street, etc.,” a few large corporations increasingly are dominating. “That means higher prices, less competition. And it hurts consumers, and it hurts the real people who do the work,” he said.
Sanders’ call for a moratorium on agriculture mergers goes further than what some others in the presidential field are calling for, although Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced legislation last year calling for an 18-month moratorium on such mergers, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also backs a moratorium.
At the Heartland Forum, hosted by HuffPost and Open Markets Action, widespread agreement emerged that monopoly power was a central problem facing the agriculture industry. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said she didn’t support a moratorium because, “I would like to look at each merger on its own. ... I think the best thing is really to take this on in a bigger way. It’s not just agriculture.”
Sanders said he’s worried about the national security implications of having foreign companies controlling U.S. agricultural companies.
“We don’t survive if we don’t eat,” he said. “And I do not want our agricultural land to be in the control of people who may not have the best interests of the United States at heart.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also expressed concern about foreign ownership in the industry at the forum.
“Right now, the farmland that is already in foreign ownership, if it were all put in one place, is the size of Virginia, and that not only creates a problem for farming communities and for our food security, it creates a threat to the safety and the defense of the United States of America,” she said.
Retail chains like Costco and Walmart are getting into the agricultural industry in bigger ways too, increasing the vertical integration in the market, pushing out middlemen and giving smaller farms fewer options.
AgriNews recently summed up what the dairy industry now looks after Walmart built a large processing plant in Indiana: “Walmart has Walmart contracted-truckers hauling Walmart contracted-milk to a Walmart bottling plant that Walmart will then process and haul to Walmart stores on Walmart trucks to sell directly to Walmart customers. That’s an airtight form of vertical integration rarely seen in U.S. agriculture and never seen on that scale.”
Warren recently released a plan to tackle corporate consolidation in the agriculture industry, calling for an end to contract farming in the poultry sector and breaking up agribusinesses that are vertically integrated. She also promised to appoint regulators to review ― and reverse ― anti-competitive mergers.
This piece was updated with Warren’s position on a moratorium.
Video by Ben Klein, Will Tooke and Tyler Tronson.