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Flour milling merger moves forward

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Federal regulators Tuesday gave the final go-ahead for two of the country’s largest flour milling companies to merge.

Food giants ConAgra and Cargill said last year they wanted to put their flour mills under one roof in a new company called Ardent Mills. But a chorus of antitrust watchdogs said the deal would further consolidate an already concentrated industry.The Department of Justice ultimately agreed and is forcing the two companies to pass ownership of four mills to a smaller competitor. To assuage anticompetitive concerns, ConAgra will pass ownership of mills in California, Texas and Minnesota to Miller Milling, a smaller competitior. Horizon Milling, the milling arm of Cargill and CHS Inc., will also sell a mill in California.

Still, former Department of Justice antitrust lawyer Thomas Horton says Ardent Mills will still wield tremendous market power over bakeries and wheat farmers.

“Over and over again we’re seeing what I call ‘sell out, hollow victory settlements,’” Horton said. “The Department of Justice can sell them to us as ‘Look we’ve taken action and done something,’ but the reality is the industry is concentrating.”

The settlement was apparently the final obstacle to the company’s creation. Ardent Mills says it plans to be up and running by the end of the May.

As KUNC’s reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.