DOJ Gets Serious About Antitrust, Targeting Dean Foods and Monsanto

Last Updated Jan 27, 2010 11:22 AM EST

The Department of Justice has formalized its investigation of Monsanto and filed a lawsuit against Dean Foods, confirming rumors that the DOJ would be more vigilant on antitrust issues under the Obama Administration.

The Justice Department seeks to undo Dean's acquisition of two Wisconsin dairy companies, alleging that the deal was a way to reduce competition and raise prices. This legal action is "highly unusual" according to one dairy analyst; "this is the first bark we've heard from the antitrust division on food issues in a very long time." The Bush Administration did not file a single major anti-monopoly case, according to the Washington Post.

The latest Monsanto investigation is about whether Monsanto will continue to produce its current Roundup Ready soybean seeds after the patent expires in 2014, or whether it will simply swap in a new, upgraded product under a new patent so it can maintain its high prices.

This is not the first time Monsanto has been accused of monopolist tendencies; the company controls an estimated 96 percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 80 percent of its corn crop, and some have compared Monsanto to the Microsoft of earlier decades.

The Associated Press found that Monsanto's contracts "bans independent companies from breeding plants that contain both Monsanto's genes and the genes of any of its competitors, unless Monsanto gives prior written permission -- giving Monsanto the ability to effectively lock out competitors from inserting their patented traits into the vast share of U.S. crops that already contain Monsanto's genes."

"A seed company can't stay in business without offering seeds with Roundup Ready in it, so if they want to stay in that business, essentially they have to do what Monsanto tells them to do," a DuPont lawyer told NPR.

  • Katherine Glover