Why Seed Consolidation Matters

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Civil Eats

Why Seed Consolidation Matters

What would you say if I told you that one company is making decisions about what you eat? As it turns out, a new report [pdf] released last week by the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering reveals that Monsanto controls the genetic traits — and thus the seeds — of most of the corn, soy and cotton grown in the US; and that they are using their control of the market to raise prices on their products and limit access to non-genetically modified (GM) seed.

This means that farmers are unable to make decisions about what they grow, and also that they grow more to make ends meet, pushing more corn and soy on the market to be processed in to a proliferation of packaged foods — making up most of what is available to eat. This report details the history of seed consolidation (including excellent visuals mapping larger chemical companies’ acquisitions of smaller seed companies), provides recommendations, and importantly, gives a voice to some of the affected farmers from all over the United States.

It will be useful reading for the Department of Justice (DoJ) because as we wrote back in August, the DoJ is investigating Monsanto and other agribusiness companies for antitrust activity. In addition, the DoJ and the USDA will hold workshops all over the nation beginning in Iowa on March 12th, 2010, where farmers have been invited to discuss the issues of concern to them. In addition, the DoJ is taking public comments on the issue: you can email agriculturalworkshops@usdoj.gov to add you thoughts to the investigation before December 31st.

This report comes in the wake of many other striking information, including an investigation by AP into confidential contracts that showed how the agribusiness giant is “squeezing competitors, controlling smaller seed companies and protecting its dominance over the multibillion-dollar market for genetically altered crops.” We also reported a few weeks ago on new research revealing that the use of GM corn, soy and cotton seed raised pesticide use 318 million pounds in 13 years, increasing the prevalence of ’superweeds’ resistant to herbicides. Another report by the Organic Center also confirms that seed prices have been rising sharply.

As Tom Philpott reported over at Grist, Monsanto is taking this investigation seriously. In fact, the company has already hired a lawyer named Jerry Crawford, who happens to be a friend and financial supporter (to the tune of $150,000) of the USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Seeds used to be a widely available public resource. Since the Bayh-Dole act of 1980, universities have been able to patent plant genetics, and thus make them unavailable to the public domain. The DoJ investigations should not be about paving the way for corporate giants Syngenta and DuPont to compete with their own GM seeds — but focus on what is of interest to farmers and eaters: biodiversity.

Paula Crossfield

Paula Crossfield is the managing editor of Civil Eats. She is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post's Green Page and is a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio where she focuses on food issues. She is currently tending a vegetable garden on her roof in the Lower East Side. You can follow her on Twitter.

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