Lawmakers push regulators on how Amazon's Whole Foods deal could affect 'food deserts'

Lawmakers push regulators on how Amazon's Whole Foods deal could affect 'food deserts'
© Keren Carrion

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and 11 other members of Congress are pushing the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to scrutinize the potential impact of Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods more closely.

In a letter spearheaded by Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeLawmakers push regulators on how Amazon's Whole Foods deal could affect 'food deserts' Dems announce 'unity commission' members If Democrats want to take back the White House start now MORE (D-Ohio) following her meeting Amazon, the lawmakers said the DOJ and FTC should look at the acquisition “beyond the normal antitrust process that only examines competitive impact.”

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Lawmakers said the deals impacts could be far reaching and potentially affect “food deserts” or underserved communities that don’t have access to fresh, affordable groceries. They want to know if the deal would contribute to this problem

Fudge and the other lawmakers clarified that they’re not opposed to the deal, but that they are concerned with its impacts on African-American communities across the country that are disproportionately affected by food deserts.

“While Whole Foods may have a limited presence in many of our districts, further consolidation may force grocers who have a stronger brick-and-mortar presence in our communities to respond to this merger,” they wrote. “As a result, it is possible these grocers will consolidate further and close stores that offer any, or the only, option to low-income communities."

Amazon's vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman responded promptly with his own letter, saying that Amazon agreed with Fudge.

"We have every intention when the acquisition is complete to assist Whole Foods in bringing natural and healthy foods to more people," he wrote.

The lawmakers join Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in calling for a closer look at the deal that would go beyond the standard examination of any potential anti-competitive impacts.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that the FTC was already probing Amazon for alleged deceptive discounting as a part of its review of the company's $14 billion acquisition of Whole Foods.

Many antitrust experts expect the acquisition won't run afoul of antitrust regulators. Whole Foods and Amazon generally operate in different retail spaces, with Amazon dominating the digital market and Whole Foods serving mainly as a brick-and-mortar, high-end grocer.

This story was updated at 3:02 p.m.