Originally published July 27 2011
Consolidation of seed companies leading to corporate domination of world food supply
by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
(NaturalNews) Throughout the history of agriculture across the globe, farming has always been a diversified sector of the economy. Small, self-sustaining, family farms were the order of the day in most cultures. Even as small farms grew larger and more specialized over time, many of them still saved seeds or purchased them from other farmers, which kept control of farming in the hands of the people.
But today everything has changed, as large chemical and agribusiness firms have acquired or merged with seed companies and other agricultural input companies. They have successfully gained a foothold on genetically-modified (GM) crops with transgenic traits.
These primary factors and several others have facilitated a crescendo towards the global domination of agriculture by corporations, and thus the world's food supply.
The dismal state in which we find ourselves today did not come overnight, of course, but it did pick up rapid speed after the introduction of GM crops in the mid-1990s. Since that time, multinational corporations like Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta have seized a significant amount of control over the global seed industry, which has greatly limited agricultural diversity and freedom.
The ability to patent both seeds and seed traits has also added injury to insult, as the ability to obtain natural or heirloom seeds is becoming increasingly difficult, and many farmers feel they have no choice but to go with the flow.
Professor Philip H. Howard from the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies at Michigan State University published a study in 2009 entitled Visualizing Consolidation in the Global Seed Industry: 1996 - 2008 that analyzes the trend in agriculture towards corporate dominance.
The report, which was featured in a special issue of the journal Renewable Agriculture, provides both an extensive data analysis of agriculture's dramatic transformation over the past several decades, as well as a highly-informative visual analysis of this truly shocking hostile takeover situation.
The 'Big Six" pharmaceutical and chemical companies have acquired, created joint ventures with hundreds of seed companies over the past 15 yearsIn order to help assist his readers in understanding the state of the seed industry, Prof. Howard developed a very informative graphic that displays the reality of who really controls the seed industry.
Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, and BASF collectively own or partially-own hundreds of formerly-independent seed companies -- and Monsanto, of course, dominates them all.
You can view the graphic for yourself at the following link:
As you will see, the blue circles in the diagram represent seed companies, while the red circles -- which happen to all be chemical or pharmaceutical companies -- control the vast majority of them. Solid gray arrows indicate complete ownership of a company, while gray lines indicate partial ownership.
One of the most obvious first impressions to be gathered from the diagram is Monsanto's excessive and widespread control over the seed industry. According to Prof. Howard's analysis, Monsanto acquired more than 50 seed companies just during the time represented by his study period, which spans the years between 1996 and 2008.
Monsanto had little-to-no involvement in the seed industry prior to the mid-1980s, but since that time has been rapidly eating up seed companies and furthering its development and control over the food supply through GMOs. Today, Monsanto is the world's largest seed company, and the transnational behemoth continues to acquire or otherwise create "partnerships" with various independent seed companies that are still in existence.
Behind Monsanto, the other five of the "Big Six" that Prof. Howard illustrates -- DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, and BASF -- collectively own or control a great portion of the remaining major seed companies not owned or controlled by Monsanto. And one of the biggest factors that has contributed to this dismal setup is GMOs and transgenic, patentable seed traits that are shared among the industry players.
The "Big Six" each have agreements with one or more of the others; their overall success has largely hinged on GMOs and increased control of agricultural inputsThe only thing worse than Monsanto and the dominance of the seed market are the cozy relationships with one another. Prof. Howard's analysis reveals that every company in the "Big Six" has at least one mutual relationship with one another, and they together share corporate control of the seed industry.
Monsanto has established cross-licensing agreements for its transgenic patents with every single other company in the mix, while Dow has agreements with all except for Bayer. And Syngenta has agreements with Dow, Monsanto, and DuPont, while BASF has agreements with Dow and Monsanto.
What does this all mean? It means that the already-disturbing oligarchy that controls the seed industry is shaping up to become a total monopoly with Monsanto at the helm, of course. And as transgenic technology continues to develop, which forces farmers to either go with the flow or leave the business, there may soon be no other choices in farming besides whatever Monsanto has to offer.
One would think that farmers would be more aware of this takeover and resist it. But the "Big Six" effectively fly under the radar, in most cases, by selling their seeds and chemicals through various vendors and under different names. According to Prof. Howard, this is how they effectively maintain an illusion of competition and choice in the midst of their takeover.
How things got this bad and how the situation can be fixedReal competition in the seed industry has been systematically deconstructed over the years for numerous reasons. Besides blatant industry consolidation and takeover by drug and chemical companies, many farmers have simply been willing to accept the latest seed technologies, even when it has meant having to give up their seed saving freedom, and being forced to rely on the intensive use of chemicals and other synthetic interventions in order to farm.
Prof. Howard explains that a concept known as the "agricultural treadmill" has been a major contributing factor in the demise of the seed industry. Because demand for food is largely inelastic, any increase in production will cause crop prices to fall.
So as new farming technologies emerge, farmers that adopt them first inadvertently force all the other farmers to adopt them as well, just to maintain the same level of revenue. If they do not adopt them, or fail to
keep up with other farmers on the treadmill, they will eventually fall off, or be forced out of the farming business altogether.
Other factors include changes in policy that have decreased the barriers to accumulation that have prevented agricultural takeover in the past. By developing patented, transgenic traits, seed companies have been able to overcome a barrier to accumulation in agriculture.
When farmers cannot save their GM seeds, the corporate owners can effectively maintain a continual, yearly cash flow just from selling seeds and their corresponding pesticides and herbicides, which in turn makes agriculture a vastly more profitable enterprise for preying corporations like Monsanto than it used to be.
So what is the solution? Prof. Howard suggests improving antitrust enforcement, which will prevent the continual shift of seed company ownership and gradual accumulation of the food chain by a few large companies. Another idea is to create policies that fight against the agricultural treadmill phenomenon, and that instead promote independent, self-sustaining agricultural systems that maintain control of food with the people rather than the corporations.
Perhaps the most effective suggestion -- and one that we here at NaturalNews strongly advocate for as well -- is to end the practice of granting patents on living organisms.
By re-establishing this most-effective obstacle to accumulation, there will be no more incentive for multinational biotechnology companies like Monsanto to focus on dominating agriculture because there will be no more opportunity for the massive accumulation of wealth and capital through patented seeds.
Sources for this story include:
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