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US: Monsanto's Big Deal

by Nick Parker and Karl BeitelCommonDreams.org
February 14th, 2005


 


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 choice.

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





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