Monsanto's announcement of their plans to purchase Seminis, the
largest fruit and vegetable seed producer in the world, was quickly
followed by a statement that Monsanto does not intend to apply
biotech to develop these seeds -- at least not yet. This is a curious
assertion from a dominant biotech company.
Biotech crops and food remain unpopular throughout much of the world.
In the United States, biotech corporations successfully fought
labeling and slipped the foods into grocery stores, knowing that
these products would likely have been rejected if consumers had a
Europeans actively oppose genetically engineered (GE) foods to the
point that major grocery chains in the European Union have vowed to
remove GE ingredients from their name-brand products. Subsequently,
biotech corporations have increasingly turned to the developing world
to find additional markets for GE foods. Even there resistance builds.
The biotech industry promotes GE foods by claiming these technologies
will help break the cycle of hunger and increase food production.
These claims are not supported by available scientific evidence.
Tests run by the University of Nebraska, and in Australia and
Argentina, discovered significant drops in production associated with
the switch to biotech crops on the order of 10 to 30 percent.
But what if production increases are not the only reason biotech
companies invest in GE foods?
Many have argued that the real motive driving the development of GE
seeds is expanding control over the food system. Biotech crops are
not only a profitable patented product in and of themselves, they are
also a vehicle to sell other products. Monsanto sells "Roundup Ready"
soybeans as a proprietary package in which GE seeds are conveniently
mated to their Roundup pesticide. Farmers, who traditionally save
seeds each year, are prohibited from doing so with these GE seeds,
which must be purchased anew each growing season.
Now Monsanto plans to acquire a seed company and conventionally breed
the seeds. No biotech. Despite this, it is doubtful Monsanto is
retreating from the biotech frontier.
The world's food system is quickly consolidating. Five corporations
control 90 percent of the global grain market while five supermarket
chains control most of the global retail trade. Monsanto knows that
consolidation of the global food system in the hands of a small
number of corporations is likely to continue. Wall Street analysts
believe Monsanto's future is dependent on the success of GE seed
development. Increasing its share of the proprietary seed market will
allow Monsanto to exercise significant control over the food we grow
and eat. They already control most of the biotech soy and corn
markets. Now they've extended that reach to the global seed market.
What this means is you and I, not to mention the farmer, will have
less choice over what we eat and grow as Monsanto's grip on the seed
supply tightens. And, if the labeling issue in the United States is
any indication, we will be less informed as a result. There can be no
free consumer choice when one company controls so much of the seed,
and, by extension, when so few companies own so much.
The Monsanto purchase has yet to be approved while anti-trust issues
are investigated. We face a crucial juncture on the direction our
food supply will take. This Monsanto deal certainly favors a course
that those concerned with food security, equity, and real consumer
choice would do well to oppose.
Nick Parker is the Media Coordinator and Karl Beitel is the Policy
Analyst at Food First