Written by Katharine Richter
On October 20, 2015, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, “sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack…calling for an investigation into the American Egg Board (AEB).” The allegation levied against the board involves an anti-competitive campaign aimed at eliminating a non-egg mayonnaise from Whole Food’s shelves. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agriculture Marketing Services (AMS) is currently investigating whether federal laws or administrative regulations have been violated.
The AEB is part of the USDA AMS “check-off” program, which was created in 1937 and is designed to “promote and provide research and information for a particular agricultural commodity.” According to Senator Lee’s letter to Vilsack, information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act has led to acquiring 600 pages of correspondence which suggest that the AEB staff and USDA officials may have used their power and resources to target Hampton Creek, a producer of vegan mayonnaise. The aim was to “reduce marketplace demand” for the product because of concerns of the impact on the egg industry.
According to Senator Lee’s letter, the AEB may have violated a law which states that funds received may not be for political purposes. Further, the USDA AMS issues guidelines that “forbid any advertising considered disparaging or those that depict other commodities in a negative or unpleasant light via either over or subjective video, photography, or statements.”
According to agri-pulse, the USDA review “involves a substantial amount of material and while AMS expects to complete the review in an expeditious manner, a complete review will take some time.”