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The battle between Whole Foods and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to have reverberations on Capitol Hill, as the bipartisan leaders of the House Judiciary Committee reportedly have sent a letter to the FTC expressing concerns about the dual systems of justice for merger enforcement between the FTC and Department of Justice.

At issue is the FTC’s continuing efforts to unravel the $565 million acquisition of Wild Oats by Whole Foods, which was completed a year ago.

An attorney representing Whole Foods in the case tells MNB that John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Ranking Member, sent a letter to William E. Kovacic, the Chairman of the FTC, expressing concerns over a “disparity that may have evolved in the procedures used by the two federal antitrust enforcement agencies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, for reviewing mergers under Section 7 of the Clayton Act.”

The letter reportedly identifies disparate treatment between the Department of Justice and the FTC, the federal agencies charged with antitrust enforcement, stating: “The Antitrust Division, as a law enforcement agency, brings all of its challenges in federal court, while the FTC, as an independent agency, has additional administrative authority. In the merger area, however, concerns have been raised that this disparity may in some instances lead to differences in the treatment of merging parties, not only procedurally, but substantively as well.”

The letter follows a similar letter written last week by eight US Senators and sent to the FTC, raising similar questions about treatment of Whole Foods by the FTC.

Lanny Davis, lead attorney for Whole Foods Market, said yesterday that "Whole Foods has not asked Members of Congress to take sides in any ongoing litigation. We're not going to comment specifically on this letter except to say that we share the concerns of Chairman Conyers and Congressman Smith, as expressed in the letter."

KC's View:
It is a shame that time has to be wasted on this issue, but unless the new administration forces changes upon the FTC, both houses of Congress ought to hold hearings that hold the FTC’s feet to the fire. Roast ‘em.