Corporate Control of Agriculture

The Overview

It is a law of economics: when too few players control 40% or more of a market, that market loses its competitiveness.

In agriculture, it is "agribusiness" that exerts corporate control and suppresses the market's competitiveness. Agribusiness is conducted mainly according to commercial principles. This translates to dominating markets and increasing profits as the industry's key focus.

The Challenges

A handful of multinational corporations controls the world's food industry.  This applies to global food production and distribution, sector by sector. For example, merely five companies now dominate the grain trading. Corporate mergers and acquisitions have led to this concentration of market power.

Greenpeace anti-GMO billboard at the headquarters of the council of the European Union. 04/20/2010 © Greenpeace / Philip Reynaers

This small group of multinationals determines what farmers sow and what we eat. This is the result of current circumstances in agribusiness.

Corporate control of agriculture has historical precedents. For example, four of today's dominant grain-trading players are the same as 100 years ago: Bunge, Cargill, Continental, and Louis Dreyfus.

What is new is the emergence of multinational supermarkets consolidating distribution and retailing and the agrochemical giants controlling seeds. This represents s few powerful companies dictating industry protocols to millions of small farmers, small suppliers — and to consumers.

Control of the food industry extends practically "from field to fork." The food-industry monopoly encompasses every agricultural sector, from the business of seeds, fertilizers, and machinery to food processing, transportation, and retailing.

Agribusiness dominates by claiming to "feed the world" — but the benefits go primarily to agribusiness and not to consumers. Specifically, agribusiness is by nature a production system where price is internal to the company's operation; competition is reduced; and profits for the dominant corporations are strategically increased. For example, one agribusiness practice is to genetically engineer crops. These crops are engineered to depend on chemicals that the same company sells. Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans fall into this category. This practice further concentrates the power of agribusiness; it enables the dominant players to sell not only the chemicals, but the patented seed to go with them.

Regarding the claim to "feed the world", an iconic example concerns Mexico. Today, scarcely more than 20 large agribusinesses control Mexican food and agriculture — and Mexico is now experiencing its worst food crisis in six decades.

Much food and agriculture legislation favors agribusiness. The case of Mexico exemplifies this imbalance. The Mexican food crisis is in part a result of policies and global trade agreements that liberalize trade and promote a globalized food economy. Mexico's current lack of food is happening after more than fifteen years after liberalized trade and investment between the US, Canada and Mexico [North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)].

Policies like NAFTA are maintained by politicians and corporate executives engaging in a political practice known as "revolving doors" — regularly swapping places in order to keep policies in place. This facilitates private corporations' entry of into areas of public interest that were formerly the preserve of local communities or governments.

The liberalization of markets also enables corporations to move their capital freely. Agreements under the World Trade Organization are structured to give corporations the freedom to operate wherever profits can be maximized. This, too, has facilitated the growth of corporate power.

The Ecological Farming Alternative

Ecological farming adapts agriculture to climate change by bringing diversity back to farms and fields—and by protecting natural biodiversity. Ecological farming practices are also sustainable, mitigating up to 70% of all of agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest updates

 

Chemical giant BASF flees Europe - no bad potatoes here please!

Blog entry by Marco Contiero & Lasse Bruun | 20 January, 2012 9 comments

The biggest chemical company in the world, BASF, is moving to the US because Europeans don’t want its genetically engineered potatoes. Just days ago, the company announced its decision to move its main laboratory for the development of...

Tackling hunger and climate change: from farm to fork

Blog entry by Julian Oram | 2 December, 2011 1 comment

On the third annual Agriculture and Rural Development Day taking place in Durban, South Africa on December 3rd, governments will be grappling with an apparently unsolvable conundrum; how to feed a world that recently crossed the seven...

AquaBounty salmon smells fishy

Blog entry by Caroline Jacobsson | 28 October, 2011 2 comments

The thought of having fish sticks for dinner made from genetically engineered fish is rather unappetizing - so you are not likely to ever see it announced on today’s menu at your local bistro. Yet US company AquaBounty is currently...

The Biotech industry’s latest desperate ploy: blame the people

Blog entry by Caroline Jacobsson | 21 October, 2011 4 comments

A story in today’s UK newspaper The Guardian , tells how a leaked document has exposed a major #fail by the European biotech industry association . EuropaBio is really clutching at straws by preparing an outreach program to change...

A future with food for all - ecological farming

Blog entry by Caroline Jacobsson | 15 October, 2011 4 comments

When shopping for vegetables at the local farmers’ market I am struck by the abundance of choice. Local produce from local farmers on offer in all colors of the rainbow. The natural taste and beauty of the fruits and vegetables tells...

Food photos for Blog Action Day

Blog entry by Andrew Davies | 12 October, 2011 2 comments

Wondering what you should write about for Blog Action Day this Saturday? We'll be writing about ecological farming – a subject close to our hearts (and stomachs). You should pick anything about food that inspires you personally.

EU court bans honey contaminated by GE crops

Blog entry by Caroline Jacobsson | 8 September, 2011 8 comments

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that honey contaminated with pollen from a genetically engineered maize produced byMonsanto cannot be sold on the market. This means that if beekeepers keep beehives in areas where the...

GE contamination – it’s not worth the risk

Blog entry by Janet Cotter | 14 July, 2011 9 comments

The growing of genetically engineered (GE) crops is something that Greenpeace has long opposed, due to the risks posed to both human health and the environment, and unwanted contamination of our food due to the difficulties of...

Time to End the Chemical War Against Superweeds

Blog entry by Lasse Bruun | 30 June, 2011 16 comments

Have you ever thought about how your favourite picnic spot in the local city park is managed? Or what happens when herbicides are sprayed on the crops that make up your breakfast cereal? The truth is that in both city parks and the...

Herbicide tolerance and GM crops

Publication | 30 June, 2011 at 6:00

The widespread and increasingly intensive use of glyphosate in association with the use of GM (genetically modified) crops poses further risks to the environment and human health.

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