After years of suffering what amounts to "corporate feudalism" at the hands of agbiotech giants like Monsanto, farmers are now fighting back as the US government launches an unprecedented anti-trust enquiry. A major grievance is that the required seed licence forces farmers to relinquish their right to plant, harvest and sell their own seeds (see  Monsanto versus Farmers, SiS 26).
The US government is concerned about the lack of competition against large corporations. So, for the first time in history, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Justice have joined forces to organise a series of workshops from March to December 2010, to be held in different parts of the country, that aims to  "explore competition issues affecting the agricultural sector in the 21st century and the appropriate role for antitrust and regulatory enforcement in that industry."
The first all-day hearing, held in Ankeny, Iowa, 12 March, was attended by about 500 people, including farmers from several states, ranchers, company representatives, local people and, notably, representatives from Monsanto, the company with near monopoly on seeds of maize and soybean. In the US, these seeds are mostly genetically engineered (GE) (see  GM Crops Increase Herbicide Use in the United States, SiS 45).
Monsanto's dominance in the seed industry (Figure 1) illustrates the breakneck speed of corporate concentration in the sector. Monsanto now controls 60 percent of the corn seed market, 62 percent of the soybean market, 95 percent of the transgenic cotton seed market and is rapidly consolidating control of the vegetable, sugar beet and wheat markets . Monsanto's GE soybean and corn cover 92 percent and 85 percent respectively of total US acreage for those two crops.
At the hearing, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. conceded that  "reckless deregulation has restricted competition in agriculture." Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose record  of promoting GE crops and corporate control does not augur well for the outcome of the workshops, nevertheless expressed concern over the present situation. "This is not just about farmers and ranchers. It's really about the survival of rural America." He said, "We've seen a significant decline in the number of farmers and ranchers and that translates into a significant decline in the number of people living in rural America."
Commenting on the joint involvement of the two governmental departments, Mr. Holder told reporters : "You will see an historic era of enforcement that will almost inevitably grow from the partnership that we have established."