At the time of Expo Milano 2015 - when we published the ebook 'GMO, the Big Scam'- the global market for seeds and pesticides was in the hands of 6 Corporation. Nothing worse, she told herself. Reality, on the other hand, has overcome the worst nightmares.
Seeds, 20 years of concentrations on a global scale
in 1998, a couple of years after the introduction of GMOs on an agro-industrial scale, large groups began to do Shopping of competing companies. With the aim of grabbing as many intellectual property rights as possible (Intellectual Property Rights, IP) on seeds. Following a path similar to that already carried out by the IT giants, which in turn over the previous decades have hoarded IP on programming codes. (1)
in 2008, Monsanto's patented genetics alone accounted for 92% of soybeans, 80% of corn and 86% of cotton and 92 grown in the US. Back then, the acquisitions and mergers of the previous decade had allowed six giants to dominate the international seed and pesticide market. As if that weren't enough, the Big 6 (Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Dow Chemical Company, Bayer, BASF) began to forge new alliances, further to the detriment of competition.
Al 2018, Big 6 are consolidated in Big 4. Bayer (which acquired Monsanto) and Corteva, (born from the Dow-DuPont merger), ChemChina (which acquired Syngenta) and BASF. These four Corporation they control over 60% of proprietary seed sales worldwide. (2) The transaction values express the size of the business at stake:
- the Dow-DuPont merger, worth US $ 130 billion, led the two chemical groups to form a third company, Corteva,
- the acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer, US $ 63 bn, has eliminated the brand of the former but not the judicial troubles related to glyphosate,
- the purchase of Syngenta, for US $ 43 billion, has allowed ChemChina to climb into the Top 10 of global seed sales (where the Chinese group Longping High-Tech already appears).
In the last decade another 56 acquisitions were registered e j which involved other giants such as Vilmorin-Mikado of Limagrain (France), DLF (Denmark) and Longping High-Tech, which acquired the Dow corn division in Brazil and controlling interests in seven Chinese seed companies. ChemChina in turn has planned new acquisitions on the domestic market.
Concentrations of power over food production, the global scenario
Philip Howard, a researcher at Michigan State University (USA), has been following the concentrations of power in the seed sector worldwide for a quarter of a century. (3)
The approximately 400 changes of ownership in the companies mentioned in the table below, recorded by him in the last 23 years, have not, however, undermined the indifference of the authorities who should supervise antitrust legislation.
Farmers they are the first victims of the mergers, explains Howard. Finding how this phenomenon leads to a reduction in choices and an increase in prices. (3) And not only:
- innovation is limited by the protection of IP rights, which large groups also exercise with aggressive methods. Leading to restrictions on the use and exchange of seeds, even for the 'seed saving'and research purposes,
- private research has decreased or slowed down. As noted by the US Department of Agriculture itself, the giants that emerged from the consolidation promote less research. Fewer players, less innovation.
Competitiveness of a sector, according to classical economic theories, fails when the four main ones player control 40% or more of the market. However, the seed industry continues to exceed this threshold both overall and on individual production lines. Just think that even before the advent of Big 4 just three groups - Monsanto, Syngenta and Vilmorin - controlled 60% of the global vegetable seed market.
The aggregate concentration of industrial seed conglomerates, in hindsight, invests the entire agri-food economy on a planetary level. It collides with public, collective and individual operators interests, and interferes with economic and sector policies. Where the plutocrats, in all evidence, find it easy to manipulate to their exclusive advantage political decisions and influence administrative ones. (4)
Concentrations, food safety and SDGs
The domain of Big 4 influences both conventional and organic agriculture. The inaccessibility of a wide range of plant genetics to public researchers, farmers and independent breeders severely limits the possibility of improving agricultural and food systems. As it is indispensable, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations.
The resilience of plants it must be promoted, thanks to public and private synergy. To realize the public interest to allow the prosperity of crops without resorting to synthetic pesticides and fertilizersNor to genetic engineering. Crops must be allowed to naturally resist disease, adapt to climate change and environmental conditions. Addressing the crucial problem of the food safety - namely, the security of food supplies - and improving the nutritional qualities of our foods.
The authorities in charge of supervising competition and the free market in every area of the planet - in the USA and in Europe, as well as in Italy, in particular - seem to have abdicated their responsibilities to investigate and prosecute violations of the so-called antitrust (or anti-monopoly) legislation in the agri-food sector. As proof of this, we note with regret the disinterest of the AGCM (Authority for Competition and the Market) towards our reports of some of the abuses carried out by Amazon. (5)
It is up to the public sector, in modern democracies, to undertake actions aimed at guaranteeing the concrete existence of a market and an economy favorable to individual economic initiative and free competition. By hindering restrictive trade agreements and abuses of dominant positions. All the more so in vital sectors such as agri-food, where abuses can put the sustainability and security of food supply at real risk.
Food security and SDGs, what to do
The fundamental human right to food must be put at the top of the political agenda, in Europe as in all countries that join the UN. 'Zero Hunger'is the second of the 17 SDGs and cannot be addressed without solving the problem of the aggregate concentration of Corporation of seeds.
Antitrust authorities need to be awakened in trance, to support investment in plant breeding programs that meet the needs of regional agricultural systems and can be shared in the public interest. Support the scientific and agricultural communities that already guard the democratic seeds of progress. By regaining control of reserves that can be actively preserved. By improving and generating more diversity in our fields. (6) The teaching of one of the prophets of the software libero - creator of the GNU / Linux project - that the writer was lucky enough to hear live, in Bologna, at the dawn of the new millennium.
'Sharing is when you're giving someone else something you have got. One of the main political issues today is to eliminate plutocracy and restore democracy ' (Richard Stallman, founder of the 'Free Software Foundation')
Footnotes to the story
(1) The de facto monopoly on programming codes has allowed the IT giants to prevent and in any case significantly hinder the development of new software beyond their control
(2) See P. Mooney, 'Blocking the chain' report (2018), ETC Group, http://www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/files/blockingthechain_english_web.pdf
(3) VP Howard, 'Global seed industry changes since 2013' (2018), https://philhoward.net/2018/12/31/global-seed-industry-changes-since-2013/. The proposed solutions to address the problem on http://www.ipes-food.org/reports/
(4) On aggregate concentrations, see Michal S. Gal and Thomas Cheng, 'Aggregate Concentration: An Empirical Study of Competition Law Solutions', Journal of Antitrust Enforcement (2016)
(5) Refers to reports from Great Italian Food Trade mentioned in previous articles https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/amazon-troppi-illeciti-nella-vendita-di-alimenti-gift-si-appella-all-antitrust, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/amazon-pantry-cosa-non-va. Reports that gave rise to two proceedings, both filed without even proceeding with an investigation as they were deemed 'not in line with the priorities of intervention' of the Antitrust of Rome
(6) V. Farmer to Farmer Campaign, report 'Out of Hand: Farmers Face the Consequences of a Consolidated Seed Industry' (2009), http://www.farmertofarmercampaign.com/