LEAP and Thurman Arnold Project to Host Virtual Conference on Big Ag & Antitrust

The Thurman Arnold Project at Yale (TAP@Yale) and the Law, Ethics & Animals Program (LEAP) at Yale Law School invite paper submissions for “Big Ag & Antitrust: Competition Policy for a Sustainable and Humane Food System,” a virtual conference on the role and power of antitrust and competition law and policy in shaping the American food system. The conference will be held on Saturday, January 16, 2021. The call for abstracts is here. Attendees can register here.

“Our food system has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past 40 years,” said Austin Frerick, Deputy Director of the Thurman Arnold Project at the Yale University School of Management. “The deregulation of the American food system has paved the way for multinational corporations to steamroll family farms and local businesses. Although economic concentration reaches across sectors, there are few areas where it is more prevalent, or where it more directly impacts people, than the food system. Millions of Americans work in the food industry, as waiters, cooks, grocery store clerks, and cashiers, as farmers and farmworkers, as small business owners and slaughterhouse workers. In fact, the food system accounts for more than a tenth of all jobs in the United States. The goal of this conference is to start a conversation about a new course for the American food system that closes the books on this neoliberal, laissez-faire era and restores power and dignity to workers, family farmers, and small business owners.”

Since the mid-20th century, a handful of corporations have grown to dominate America’s meatpacking, farm, and food sectors. Today, the country’s four largest pork producers, beef producers, soybean processors, and wet corn processors control over 70 percent of their respective markets. Four companies control 90 percent of the global grain trade. Agrochemical, seed, and many consumer product industries are likewise now controlled by just a few mega-sized firms. The LEAP and TAP cohosted conference will explore the role of antitrust and competition law in creating America’s food system and its potential for improving it.

“The implications of Big Ag corporations’ concentrated market power, and in turn their concentrated political power, are profound for people, for the welfare of tens of billions of farm animals, for the environment and the global climate, and for our democracy,” said Viveca Morris, Executive Director of the Law, Ethics & Animals Program at Yale Law School. “For decades, the guiding motto of American food policy has been ‘get big or get out.’ This conference takes place in an exciting and potentially pivotal moment. Diverse stakeholders who are shouldering the extraordinary costs of Big Food’s ‘cheap’ products are increasingly uniting in pushing for a new era: ‘get the big out.’”

The conference will discuss what kinds of reforms are needed in antitrust enforcement and regulation to address problems in the food system and how these changes should be designed. It will also consider the relationship between competition policy and broader concerns associated with industrial agriculture — including climate change, farm animal welfare, sustainability, public health, and inequalities facing workers, farmers, and rural communities. Finally, the conference will consider policy recommendations, including changes in the interpretation of antitrust laws and doctrines, new legislation, regulations, enforcement practices, and the institutional organization of agencies.

“In recent years, antitrust has become more salient in our broader political and policy discourse,” said Melody Wang ’21. “But much of that attention has centered on novel issues raised by tech platforms, with antitrust enforcement in agricultural markets continuing to lag sorely behind the magnitude of market dysfunction in this sector. For antitrust, buyer power, or monopsony, is every bit as much of a concern as monopoly power, and we need to develop tools, frameworks, and policies that can better analyze and correct for these types of competitive dislocations prevalent in agricultural markets.” Wang, Manny Rutinel ’22, and Alexander Weiss ’22 will serve as co-chairs of the conference.

The Thurman Arnold Project at the Yale School of Management launched in fall 2019 in response to the growing interest in competition enforcement by scholars, students, and the general public. The project is designed to bring together Yale scholars and students who are interested in antitrust to engage with one another and create rigorous antitrust research and policy, disseminate it, and enable links to enforcement and regulatory policy.

The Law, Ethics & Animals Program at Yale Law School, also launched in fall 2019, is a multidisciplinary program dedicated to developing new strategies to address industrialized animal cruelty and its impacts on animals, people and the environment, and to drawing attention to the deep questions of law and conscience raised by humanity’s treatment of animals.

Questions about the January 2021 Big Ag & Antitrust conference should be directed to Thurman Arnold Project Deputy Director Austin Frerick. Abstracts are due on November 6, 2020.