Big Ag’s Wild Game of Monopoly Endangers Food Diversity

Bayer Would Control Nearly One-Third of the World’s Seed Stock

Agriculture’s biggest deal ever will leave farmers and consumers paying more for less, and could accelerate a potentially catastrophic decline in the diversity of what we plant and eat.

A wave of Big Ag mergers is threatening to entrench a food system that reduces nature’s edible abundance to a handful of plants on your plate.

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, has been purchased by Bayer, the German pharma and agrochemical multinational. Bayer paid $66 billion — the biggest cash buy-out in history.

The stakes could not be higher. The deal threatens to put the genetic erosion of the world’s food supply on steroids, just as serious doubts are emerging about the genetically modified organism (GMO) “revolution” that began 20 years ago and the claim that US-style industrial farming will “feed the world.” The risks of monoculture are well documented: more than one million people died of starvation and disease during the Irish Potato Famine (also known as the Great Famine), between 1845 and 1852. It took 168 years to find out what went wrong.

The loss of crop diversity in the United States is already staggering: an estimated 93% of vegetable seed varieties have gone extinct in the last century.

The merger will also lead to higher seed prices. Since Monsanto’s commercial introduction of its GM seeds in 1996, the cost of seeds has skyrocketed. Farmers now pay 325% more for soybean seeds than in 1996, and 259% more for corn. The price of genetically modified cotton has soared 516%.

The new company will control almost a third of the world’s seed stock. It will not only be the biggest maker of seeds but also the largest producer of the pesticides that douse them. Kansas farmer Tom Giessel, the former vice president of Farmers Union, told Modern Farmer that “it’ll have a large impact. I have no choice when I purchase inputs, be it seeds, chemicals, whatever. There is no choice. They own me.”

EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager (left) and Attorney General Loretta Lynch (right) Photo credit: Hubert Burda Media / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) and US Department of Labor / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager (left) and Attorney General Loretta Lynch (right)
Photo credit: Hubert Burda Media / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) and US Department of Labor / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

There are now only two people who can abort the deal: the EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager and US  Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Once it lays hands on Monsanto’s GMO factory, Bayer will have “more than 2000 varieties of seeds for crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat,” explains Bloomberg. “Adding that portfolio to its own vegetable, rice, cotton and oilseed offerings gives Bayer a virtually unassailable position at the head of the market.”

The merger’s global ambition aligns Monsanto’s dominance in the Americas (80% of US corn and 93% of soybeans) with Bayer’s market strength in Europe and Asia. The new supersized agribusiness will respond to the challenges of climate change and population growth by pushing pesticides, monoculture and GMOs on the world’s farmers.

Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant, who stands to make $123 million if the deal goes through, claims the merger is driven by the need to pool resources and create more innovation to improve “the lives of growers and people around the world.”

But Phil Howard, author of a book about consolidation in the food industry, says “innovation is an incredibly weak argument” for the merger. Debt will force the new enterprise to slash costs and “narrow their seed catalogs, to focus on the most profitable varieties.”

The more likely reason for the merger, he explains, is to put the new company in a position to further hike seed prices.

The agri-industrial complex has witnessed a string of mega-mergers in 2016 that is turning the Big Six agribusinesses into Four: Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont, BASF and ChinaChem-Syngenta. If all these the mergers go through, the three top agrochemical companies will sell almost two-thirds of the world’s patented seeds and pesticides. Meanwhile, most independent seed producers have gone out of business.

The loss of crop diversity in the United States is already staggering: an estimated 93% of vegetable seed varieties have gone extinct in the last century. Filmmakers Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel, who have produced a documentary about the loss of seeds and attempts by seed banks to rescue them, call the decline in diversity “a recipe for catastrophic crop failure and human suffering.”

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) notes that 75% of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species. Out of 30,000 known edible plant species, three (rice, maize and wheat) provide almost 60% of calories and proteins.

Starving boy and girl raking the ground for potatoes during the Irish Potato Famine. Photo credit: James Mahony / Wikimedia

Starving boy and girl raking the ground for potatoes during the Irish Potato Famine.
Photo credit: James Mahony / Wikimedia

Will the Name “Monsanto” Disappear?

.

It would be ironic if “Monsanto” simply disappears and becomes Bayer (which Germans pronounce as  BUY-er). A group of international lawyers, scientists and NGOs has just put Monsanto, arguably the world’s most hated company, on symbolic trial in the Dutch capital The Hague.

The Monsanto Tribunal charges the company with “depletion of soil and water resources, species extinction and declining biodiversity, and the displacement of millions of small farmers worldwide.”

One of Monsanto’s most notable critics taking part in the Monsanto Tribunal is Swiss scientist Hans Herren, a World Food Prize winner who saved millions of lives in Africa using biological pest control. Herren was co-chairman of a UN report that calls for redirecting agricultural development toward more sustainable practices.

“We need good seed varieties,” he said in an interview at the Paris Climate Summit, “but that has to come from the diversity of the farmer’s seeds because they’re locally adapted. You cannot have one variety which is good for everywhere — that’s the Monsanto dream because then they can make one variety and sell it all over the world.”

Bayer, now set to become the world’s largest seed company, is currently a small player compared to Monsanto. But its Crop Science Division is the dominant producer of neonicotinoid pesticides (“neonics”) used as a seed coating on more than 140 crops.

Scientists are finding ever more evidence that neonics are linked to a global decline in insect pollinators —  a third of global cultivated crops depend on pollination — and the “large-scale population extinctions” of wild bees.

In the US, 42% of bee colonies have been lost over the past year — the largest loss ever.

The question now is whether the United States and the EU will cede unprecedented control over the world food supply to a Bayer-Monsanto mega-seed company.

Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, has flagged the merger for review, saying farmers and consumers should have choices so they “are not locked with just one producer and just one set of pesticides.”

She is under pressure from the EU Parliament. The new “mega-corporation Bayer would be able to decide virtually single-handedly what is grown in our fields and ends up on our plates,” writes Molly Scott Cato, a British member of European Parliament for the Green Party, in an online petition against the merger.

Public opinion in Europe is mostly hostile to the merger. Seventy percent of Germans, for example, fear the deal will have “negative consequences” and two-thirds want to see it canceled.

Germany-based Bayer claims that it won’t force the genetically modified seeds on its European neighbors. GMO cultivation is banned in most of Europe and Monsanto’s best-selling weed killer, glyphosate, could be banned by the end of 2017.

In the US, it remains to be seen whether the Department of Justice will exercise its authority to stop the merger. Bayer and Monsanto are two lobbying “superpowers” that spend a great deal of money to make sure that government takes their side. Just how much? Over six million in 2016 and 120 million in the past decade. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is now representing Bayer.

But there are signs that Monsanto plus Bayer might be “too big to swallow.”

“I’m afraid this consolidation wave has become a tsunami,” commented Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that held a hearing about the merger last month.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has called on the Department of Justice to not only block the merger but also reopen its investigation of Monsanto’s monopoly over the seed and chemical market: “The attempted takeover of Monsanto by Bayer is a threat to all Americans. These mergers boost the profits of huge corporations and leave Americans paying even higher prices.”


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adopted by WhoWhatWhy from field (Or Reshef / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0)

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28 responses to “Big Ag’s Wild Game of Monopoly Endangers Food Diversity”

  1. Warren Lauzon says:

    This is pretty much just another fear mongering article with only the smallest basis in (very distorted) fact.

    • russbaker says:

      Pretty good bet that Monsanto will have an army of disinfo zombies out there commenting away, LOL. Some folks will do anything for a buck. Souls come cheap!

    • hyperzombie says:

      Hyperbole much? The Monsanto “Soul Stealing” plant trait will not be out till 2018…

    • Peter Olins says:

      As a kid in the 50’s I was enthralled by the science-fiction novel “The Day of the Triffids” in which plants became mobile and took over the earth. It’s only a matter of time, now that we have CRISPR.

    • Damo says:

      I love tht movie–but I saw it in the 1990s and enjoyed it more for its camp value (liking “camp” was a stage I went through during high school).

    • Michael McCarthy says:

      “The Day of the Triffids” in which plants became mobile and took over the earth

      Was that the inspiration for “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes?”
      I thought one of the more interesting ideas in the TV show “Farscape” was that the Delvians were a highly evolved bipedal race of plants.

    • JoeFarmer says:

      What’s really cheap is people that have no idea what they’re talking about writing stories on the internet.

      I’ll guarantee that you have no skin in the ag merger game. I do. So quit acting like you’re some kind of expert when you’ve never been on a working farm in your life. For the record, I’m opposed to all of the proposed mergers, but I don’t need help from clueless people like you. Thanks anyway.

    • hyperzombie says:

      One thing I don’t get about these folks is that if Bayer (the world’s largest chemical company) bought a similar sized tech company as Monsanto, there would be protests in the street. Bayer buys Twitter, Bayer buys Starbucks, people would lose their minds if Bayer bought Starbucks, but the world’s leading Ag company gets Meh. Very sad.

    • grinninglibber says:

      another operative upvoted by other sockpuppets

    • grinninglibber says:

      A monsanto operative upvoted by all usual operatives and sockpuppets.
      Might lose his $hill nickles of they merger goes through.
      Not up to Bayer standards.

    • JoeFarmer says:

      No proof, just the demented rantings of a little old man.

    • GOOSE says:

      All they have to do is look at fake farmers upvotes and they will have a good starting on a list of industry astroturfers and thug trolls.

    • grinninglibber says:

      Exactly

    • Warren Lauzon says:

      And yet none of the people you claim are shills actually get anything from Monsanto. How do you explain that?

    • Peter Olins says:

      I have never come across a paid “disinfo zombie” on an an Internet thread, but I’m sure they exist. Can you give us any advice on how to detect one?

      As far as being paid goes, I don’t mean to sound personal, but as the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy, are you not being paid for your contribution?

    • russbaker says:

      Peter, how long have you been a reader of WWW? I notice you posting all over the Internet on GMO, pesticides, etc. I don’t mean to sound personal, but….why?

    • Jeff Leonard says:

      Most likely Peter Olins comments on GMOs because he happens to be an expert on the subject both in education and experience, an easily ascertained fact. What is your experience in and education in genetics and biology Russ?

    • ChristBurns2YearOlds says:

      Jeff Leonard: I don’t know if you noticed – your colleague just revealed his true position in an un-disciplined manner and you should talk to him about that.

    • perhaps because he might know thing or two about the topic?

    • grinninglibber says:

      Monsanto pays many

    • JoeFarmer says:

      Of course you offer no proof whatsoever for your claim. Typical for you.

    • grinninglibber says:

      Here is one of the many

    • JoeFarmer says:

      You’re a little old man ranting with no proof.

    • GOOSE says:

      Peter is listed on the Ketchum run GMO pesticide industry astroturf
      site GMO answers as one of their PR operatives. He does post all over
      the internet and is recognized as an industry PR asroturfer with an
      agenda.

      https://gmoanswers(dot)com/experts

    • Peter Olins says:

      Actually, my intent is well-aligned with the declared mission of WhoWhatWhy:

      “WhoWhatWhy embodies a form of investigative reporting that is rigorous, relentless and scientific — we call it forensic journalism.”

      I think that the long-term human impact of genetic engineering will be on a similar scale to the invention of the transistor. The big difference is that no-one tried to thwart the development of the technologies that arose from the transistor.

      The amount of disinformation about science-related subjects on the Internet is breath-taking, and I occasionally use my spare time to play a small part disputing or clarifying misconceptions—and, occasionally, outright lies—about topics that I am familiar with.

    • ChristBurns2YearOlds says:

      Peter Ollins: Not very disciplined of you to reveal your true position. I suppose you don’t think you just did.

    • Mugly Wumple says:

      Peter Olins said: “I have never come across a paid “disinfo zombie” on an an Internet thread, but I’m sure they exist. Can you give us any advice on how to detect one?”

      Traits of a “disinfo zombie”
      Quick and frequent posting, attempting to control the first page.
      Often conducted by the same 2,3 or 4 people.
      Attempts to discredit the source of the info, accusations of lying.
      Ad hominem attacks.

      I’d also add making such unbelievable claims such as “I’ve never come across…” as if you’re some internet noob. Anyone with a shred of skepticism has seen disinfo campaigns.

    • Mugly Wumple says:

      Oh, and congratulations, Russ. You’ve getting enough recognition to send the big boys after you.

    • EFFNNELL says:

      All those traits are common for the anti GMO, anti Monsanto, anti glyphosate crowd.

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      ahhh another Monsanto operative

    • EFFNNELL says:

      Typical, you don’t agree with my opinion so you accuse me of being paid by Monsanto,

      That is an Ad hominem attack, you just did the thing that “disinfo zombies” do

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      Vet this one – obvious

    • ChristBurns2YearOlds says:

      But hey, the worst thing those guys do is try to scroll the text. Typically in response to a strong comment they don’t want to stay on the page. They engage in frivolous banter with each other so as to scroll the text.

    • ChristBurns2YearOlds says:

      Get out of here. They’re so obvious. They’re right under your nose and I find your disbelief suspect.

    • Peter Olins says:

      Feel free to tell us exactly who is being paid to comment on this topic.

  2. hyperzombie says:

    Wow, almost everything in this article is wrong. I need to invent a word to describe how wrong it is, “Wrongtastic”, “Wrongest”, “Wrongaplalooza”?

    • hyperzombie says:

      “Wrongtastic” as defined by the first edition Hyperz New Meridian Dictionary and Pizzeria Placemat Co.

      “Wrongtastic”
      adjective………rôNG·tas·tic rôNG-ˈtas-tik,
      A wrongism, based on fantasy and delusion that is so EPIC that it may require a wrongxorcism, followed by a respite period at the Wrongatorium.

      I hope that this helps.

    • russbaker says:

      Anyone who has accepted work looking for and seeking to undermine reporting about Monsanto and is now willing to talk about it, please contact us.

    • hyperzombie says:

      Why would Monsanto pay anyone to undermine reporting about them?

    • russbaker says:

      Care to fully identify yourself and particulars on how you come to your views?

    • grinninglibber says:

      Zombie is a known Monsanto operative.

    • JoeFarmer says:

      And once again you fail to provide any kind of evidence.

    • grinninglibber says:

      buzz off $hill boy

    • JoeFarmer says:

      Again, no supporting evidence from you.

    • GOOSE says:

      Everyone who posts on GMO or pesticide threads and now vaccine threads know you are an industry tool. All anyone has to do is look at your disqus posting history.

    • grinninglibber says:

      Exactly.

    • JoeFarmer says:

      No proof from Ted Miner’s latest sockpuppet, either. No surprise, though.

    • grinninglibber says:

      Says the well known operative.

    • EFFNNELL says:

      So anyone that does not agree with you is a paid industry troll?

    • grinninglibber says:

      Nope just known ones.
      Vet farmer and don’t look like a fool…or a tool.

    • grinninglibber says:

      Monsanto Paying Fleet Of Trolls To ‘Discredit’…….
      Surprisingly, it was actually a Monsanto employee that unintentionally let the truth behind their ‘discrediting operation’ slip in a conference with students that he may have forgotten was open to the public. In a conversation with students, Dr. William “Bill” Moar raved that Monsanto had established:

      “An entire department” (waving his arm for emphasis) dedicated to “debunking” science which disagreed with theirs.”

  3. Peter Olins says:

    You claim that 93% of vegetable varieties have “gone extinct” over the past century. Do you have any examples of important crop varieties that are no longer available?

    Plant-breeding is a never-ending process. In the wild, natural selection weeds out poorly-competing species, and the same goes for the choices that farmers make. For comparison, do you have similar statistics for how many NEW varieties have been introduced over the past century?

    Your article implies that farmers are being subjected to price-gouging. Have you considered that most farmers are willing to forego heirloom seeds and pay extra for improved crop traits that result in greater profit or performance? An 80’s-era push-button phone could be bought for $20, while millions of people today are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for the latest smart-phone. Some may argue that Apple and Samsung are price-gouging, but I think they are simply feeding a market demand for a superior product.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      Ah… the “invisible hand” line of argumentation … You see it every time some journalism entity questions the ethical choices of big business. Can set your watch by the defiant fallback position.

      Even Adam Smith, himself, knew it was all horse****. Let market competition continue to drive the division of labor, and it produces workers as “stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.”

      There is No Invisible Hand
      https://hbr.org/2012/04/there-is-no-invisible-hand

    • Jason says:

      Huh…I think you’re reading too much into his response. And some guy expressing his opinions on capitalistic fundamentals doesn’t really qualify as evidence of anything other than his opinion.

    • hyperzombie says:

      important crop varieties that are no longer available

      Tomacco?

    • ChristBurns2YearOlds says:

      It is not said that the crops went extinct due to being replaced by GMO. It is merely implied. Because we are more comfortable believing that GMO is in produce, than admitting it is mostly livestock feed, and is therefore not the fault of vegans.

  4. Michael McCarthy says:

    The moderation on this site is, erm, interesting…

  5. jackmur2012 says:

    If you control food you control the People. Should this merger be allowed to go through it will be a major step towards the “new world order’.

  6. hyperzombie says:

    Hey, come on.. Why did my wrongtastic post get deleted? It was my best comment of the week.

  7. Comments editor says:

    In case anybody missed RB’s earlier invitation, here it is again.

    ‘Anyone who has accepted work looking for and seeking to undermine
    reporting about Monsanto and is now willing to talk about it, please
    contact us.’

    • EFFNNELL says:

      You anti monsanto people reek of desperation, surely someone who accepted money to undermine reporting would not be a credible source of information.

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      Google this : “Monsanto And Others Caught Paying Internet ‘Trolls’ To Attack Activists”

      The source is a Monsanto exec with a loose mouth.

    • EFFNNELL says:

      what was said was “An entire department dedicated to “debunking” science which disagreed with theirs” which in no way can you draw the conclusion that “Monsanto And Others Caught Paying Internet ‘Trolls’ To Attack Activists”

      keep grasping at those straws thought.

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      Yawn

    • EFFNNELL says:

      I can see your upset because you were wrong, maybe next time debate a topic you actually know about.

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      I don’t debate operatives like you… move along.
      Mod can read for himself.

    • EFFNNELL says:

      The old any one that does not agree with me is a paid operative argument,

      you hurt your own cause with your weak arguments

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      You have yet to make an argument.

      These folks are well known for what they are, and Monsanto is about to disappear.

    • EFFNNELL says:

      How weak are the opinions of the mods if they have to delete the comments of people who do not agree with them.

      pathetic

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      Good job MODS!

    • EFFNNELL says:

      So you do not like to discuss issues you just want to shout opinions and have no one be able to disagree with them?

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      You have discussed nothing. Just trolling. Flagged.
      Monsnato sure does hire dumb low budget ones.

    • EFFNNELL says:

      I cant get a discussion going if everything i post is deleted, a sure sign of a pathetic argument is one that does not stand up to scrutiny, which is the case for the mods here since they delete counter arguments/options,

      anyway back to my original point which was you cannot draw the conclusion that you did from the Monsanto exec statement.

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      the Mod will decide that – not anyone else

    • EFFNNELL says:

      The mod has already decided to out them selves as uneducated fools who haven’t got strong enough arguments to stand up to internet comm-enters, and so have you with your pathetic attempt to discredit Monsanto with that stupid argument you made.

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      got it… so you are in love with Monsanto why?

    • EFFNNELL says:

      Have I said anything good or bad about Monsanto?

      The answer is no, I just hate seeing new technologies not be utilized because of the stupid arguments and scare tactics of the anti GMO, anti Monsanto crowd.

      I personally do not care if Bayer buys Monsanto or not.

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      HAHAHAHAHA…pretty strange seeing so many “fans” for the most hated company in America protecting thier profits…. public health be damned.

    • EFFNNELL says:

      I’m am a fan of scientific progress in agriculture, you may think that farmers are dumb, farming is easy and that organic farming can feed the world but I know better.

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      Sure you are.

    • EFFNNELL says:

      So what is your motivation?

    • EFFNNELL says:

      Funny as soon as I ask your motivation you go quiet. Me thinks it is you who is the industry paid poster

    • Ken Gallaher says:

      Do you get paid by the post or the word?
      Do you get paid for the deleted ones?

    • EFFNNELL says:

      How would me posting on a comment forum that probably no one other than you or I will read benefit Monsanto exactly?

    • ChristBurns2YearOlds says:

      Good thing we “found out”

    • Michael McCarthy says:

      Why not ask the reverse question about those who accepted work looking to undermine Monsanto and are now willing to talk about it? I mean, this is supposed to be an investigative journalism site and all….

    • ChristBurns2YearOlds says:

      You might not have heard of grass roots. Not everyone posting comments is paid.

  8. EFFNNELL says:

    Anyone who’s comments do not agree with what the mods opinion is will have their comment deleted.

  9. Comments editor says:

    Please respect our comments policy – at all times.
    Thankyou.

    ‘Keep it civilized, keep it relevant, keep it clear, keep it short.
    Please do not post links or promotional material. We reserve the right
    to edit and to delete comments where necessary.’

  10. ChristBurns2YearOlds says:

    One thing we don’t like to acknowledge sometimes, unless we are a vegan, is that the GMO business is over-whelmingly a LIVESTOCK FEED business.
    And, that if the #1 priority ever is that everyone eat more and more and more meat, including the Billions of Chinese and Indians (see we can talk about it). Then in that case, GMO is a mitigator, relatively speaking.