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
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
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
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.