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Opinion News
January 21,2018

The corporate catastrophe

Rosemary Mason & Colin Todhunter

If the proposed Monsanto-Bayer merger goes through, the new company would control more than 25 per cent of the global supply of commercial seeds and pesticides. Monsanto held a 26 percent market share of all seeds sold in 2011. Bayer sells 17 percent of the world’s total agrochemicals and also has a seeds sector. If competition authorities pass the deal, the combined company would be the globe’s largest seller of both seeds and agrochemicals.

It marks a trend towards consolidation in the industry with Dow and DuPont having merged and Swiss seed/pesticide giant Syngenta merging with ChemChina. The mergers would mean that three companies would dominate the commercial agricultural seeds and chemicals sector.

In response to the Monsanto-Bayer merger, after it was announced in 2016 the US National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson issued the following statement:

“Consolidation of this magnitude cannot be the standard for agriculture, nor should we allow it to determine the landscape for our future… We will continue to express concern that these megadeals are being made to benefit the corporate boardrooms at the expense of family farmers, ranchers, consumers and rural economies… [there is an] alarming trend of consolidation in agriculture that has led to less competition, stifled innovation, higher prices and job loss in rural America.”

For all the rhetoric that we often hear about ‘the market’ and large corporations offering choice to farmers and consumers, the evidence is restriction of choice and the squeezing out of competitors. Over the years, for instance, Monsanto has bought up dozens of competitors to become the largest supplier of genetically engineered seeds with seed prices having risen dramatically.

Consolidation and monopoly in any sector should be of concern to everyone. But the fact that the large agribusiness conglomerates specialize in a globalised, industrial-scale, chemical-intensive model of farming should have us very concerned. Farmers are increasingly reliant on patented corporate seeds, whether non-GM hybrid seeds or GM and the chemical inputs designed to be used with them. Monsanto seed traits are now in 80% of corn and more than 90% of soybeans grown in the US.

By its very nature, the economic model that corporate agriculture is attached to demands expansion, market capture and profit growth. It might bring certain benefits to those farmers who have remained in agriculture, if not for the 330 farmers in the US who leave their land every week (according to data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service).

But in the US, ‘success’ in agriculture has largely depended on over $51 billion of taxpayer handouts over a 10-year period to oil the wheels of a particular system of agriculture designed to maintain corporate agribusiness profit margins. And any ‘success’ fails to factor in all the external social, health and environmental costs. It is easy to spin failure as success when the parameters are narrowly defined.

Moreover, the exporting of Green Revolution ideology and technology throughout the globe has been a boon to transnational seed and agrochemical manufacturers, which have benefited from undermining a healthy, sustainable indigenous agriculture.

The main players in the global agribusiness sector rank among the Fortune 500 corporations. These companies are high-rollers in a geo-politicised, globalised system of food production whereby huge company profits are linked to the worldwide eradication of the small farm (the bedrock of global food production), bad food, poor health, rigged trade, environmental devastation, mono-cropping and diminished food and diet diversity, the destruction of rural communities, ecocide, degraded soil, water scarcity and drought, destructive and inappropriate models of development and farmers who live a knife-edge existence and for whom debt has become a fact of life.

Britain is a leader in intensive, corporate-dominated agriculture. But is this the model of agriculture the world should rely on?

Let us turn to campaigner and environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason to appreciate some of the consequences of this model. She has just written an open letter to Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Advisor to the UK government. Although written to Davies, the letter is intended for the four Chief Medical Officers of Health for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and Public Health England.

Her letter is essentially a plea to highly placed officials to act.

Mason provides a stark reminder of the impacts of the agrochemical/agribusiness sector, its political power and its effects on health. She draws attention to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, which states unequivocally that the storyline perpetuated by the likes of Bayer’s Richard van der Merwe (in this piece) saying we need pesticides and (often chemical-dependent) GMOs to feed the world is a myth.

The authors of the report call for a comprehensive new global treaty to regulate and phase out the use of dangerous pesticides in farming and move towards sustainable agricultural practices. They say: “excessive use of pesticides is very dangerous to human health, to the environment and it is misleading to claim they are vital to ensuring food security.” Mason notes that chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility. Certain pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a threat to the entire ecological system on which food production depends.

One of the report’s authors, the UN expert on Toxics Baskut Tuncak, wrote in the Guardian:

“Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weedkillers, insecticides, and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most ratified international human rights treaty in the world (only the US is not a party), makes it clear that states have an explicit obligation to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals, from contaminated food and polluted water, and to ensure that every child can realise their right to the highest attainable standard of health.”

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe.’

Courtesy: Counterpunch.org


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