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AZ Joins USDA to Tackle Lack of Competition in Food Industry

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“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to addressing corporate consolidation and its negative effects on the U.S. economy, such as unfair competition and increased prices,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. (Adobe Stock)

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 Alex Gonzalez, Producer

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Friday, July 28, 2023   

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes has joined a group of bipartisan state attorneys general to beef up enforcement and prevent anti-trust activity within the nation’s food system. The move comes amid lingering questions about whether consumers are getting a fair shake.

The 31 attorneys general are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ultimately bring down food costs and create more choices at the supermarket. While recent inflation spikes have been a factor, officials say part of the focus is the possibility of price gouging.

Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said it’s worth taking a closer look. 

“We very much believe in a free market,” he said, “but not when it comes to crossing the line of trying to take advantage of individuals and families who are just trying to feed their kids. “

Beyond price structures, the USDA has said states will also be on the lookout for conflicts of interest, misuse of intellectual property and anti-competitive barriers across the food and agriculture supply chains.

Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the move, calling it an “overreach.”

Murray said while there have been rumblings about these issues, it’s hard to go into a grocery store, see higher prices, and know for sure whether corporate greed is at play.

“What are the manufacturing costs? What are the labor costs – which probably have gone up? What are the supply chain costs? What are the distribution costs? And then where, at the end, is there a profit,” she said, “and is anybody along the way taking advantage of the situation?”

But she said this large group joining forces speaks volumes about the desire to protect consumers. Murray added that there’s no federal statute addressing price gouging, so state enforcement will be important.

Arizona doesn’t currently have a price-gouging law on the books.