July 21 (UPI) -- Twelve members of Congress have asked the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to review Amazon's $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods for possible negative impacts on underserved communities.
The group, led by Rep. Marcia Furdge, D-Ohio, sent a letter to the agencies Thursday, calling for them to scrutinize the acquisition "beyond the normal antitrust process that only examines competitive impact."
They're concerned the merger could increase the number of so-called "food deserts" in their constituencies -- defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "parts of the country void of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy whole foods, and usually found in impoverished areas."
The letter said increasing retail food availability is key to reducing food deserts, but there is a concern over declining brick-and-mortar stores with the increase of online shopping.
"We are concerned that the proposed merger potentially may exacerbate the food divide among vulnerable populations, include the 41 million [Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program] recipients, particularly those in low-income and rural communities," they said.
"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," the letter continues. "As a result, it is possible these grocers will consolidate further and close stories that offer any, or the only, option to low-income communities."
Brian Huseman, Amazon's vice president of public policy, said the company agreed with the congressmen's concerns.
"We have every intention when the acquisition is complete to assist Whole Foods in bringing natural and healthy foods to more people," he said in a letter.
In addition to Fudge, Reps. Donald Payne, D-N.J., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., Val Demings, D-Fla., Emmanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J., signed the letter.