Last week I wrote about the USDA’s Egg Board, a consortium of egg industry honchos who run the group dedicated to the research and marketing of eggs. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) sent a letter to the Department of Agriculture asking why the Egg Board appeared to be interfering with small-business competitors under the auspices of the federal government.
You can read my original story here.
Friday, it was announced that the CEO of the Egg Board, Joanne Ivy, retired at the end of September. Emails that were obtained under FOIA show that, among other things, Ivy was trying to get Whole Foods to not to sell a product from a small-business competitor.
The emails by egg board executives were obtained through a public records request by Ryan Noah Shapiro, a Freedom of Information Act expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his attorney, Jeffrey Light, who specializes in FOIA matters. Shapiro knows Hampton Creek co-founder Josh Balk and provided the documents to the company, which provided them to the AP.
Hampton Creek is a small business and makes an eggless sandwich spread called “Just Mayo.” It does not have eggs in it. The Egg Board was threatened by the eggless mayonnaise and took steps to “fight back.”
Whole Foods still sells “Just Mayo.”
AP reports, “The communication nevertheless raised regulatory questions because the egg board is one of about 20 ‘checkoff’ programs overseen by the USDA, making them quasi-governmental bodies. The programs, which include the National Pork Board and the Mushroom Council, are funded by producers and supposed to be promotional.”
The USDA said it is “committed to establishing a level playing field that protects and promotes all appropriate agricultural endeavors” and that it does not “condone any efforts to limit competing products in commerce.”
This abusive situation raises the question as to why we need these government-supported industry groups. The members are large corporations selling certain agricultural products who are very profitable and can simply form a private group that helps market their products. What’s the government’s interest?
This was one of the questions Senator Lee directed to Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack in his letter. I’ll be sure to report back when the senator gets a response from Vilsack.