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

 

Linseed

Image | 11 September, 2009 at 19:37

Organic Rice Art Ratchaburi

Image | 1 September, 2009 at 18:15

Greenpeace unveiled a massive living sculpture in an organic rice field to celebrate Southeast Asia’s rich natural heritage in rice production, while at the same time reminding governments to protect the region’s most important food crop from the...

Aerial view of ‘Rice Art’ in Thailand’s Central Plains

Image | 1 September, 2009 at 0:00

18 March - Thailand. Hundreds of Greenpeace supporters, volunteers and farmers plant organic rice to create the first ever ‘art ‘ rice field in Ratchaburi province. Read more .

Organic Rice Art Ratchaburi, Thailand

Image | 1 September, 2009 at 0:00

Aerial view of ‘Rice Art’, depicting farmers wearing straw hats and using sickles planted in Thailand’s Central Plainsplanted by local volunteers and Greenpeace activists.

Dry Grapes in a Vineyard in France

Image | 25 August, 2009 at 0:00

Dry grapes and leaves due to lack of rain. If temperatures increase beyond 2°C, France will be faced with a runaway geographical displacement of both its natural and cultivated ecosystems, and the effects on the sustainability of wine production...

Genetic Engineering Protest on the railway line Bern-Zurich

Image | 24 August, 2009 at 16:46

2009: Greenpeace activists sowed the word "Gentechfrei" (GE Free) on the railway line Bern-Zurich. This has now grown and is easily visible. Greenpeace Switzerland called for an extension of the moratorium on growing genetically engineered crops.

The PieperPad (Dutch for "Potato Trail")

Image | 20 May, 2009 at 0:00

The PieperPad (Dutch for "Potato Trail") is a 1000 kilometer long cycling tour designed to raise awareness about the importance of ecological farming in the Netherlands by encouraging members of the public to get out into the countryside and...

Potato Trail

Image | 20 May, 2009 at 0:00

The PieperPad (Dutch for "Potato Trail") is a 1000 kilometer long cycling tour designed to raise awareness about the importance of ecological farming in the Netherlands by encouraging members of the public to get out into the countryside and...

Testimonies of Contamination

Publication | 1 April, 2009 at 0:00

Spanish farmers' testimonies demonstrate the devastating impacts of contamination from Monsanto's genetically engineered (GE) maize.

The Philippine Rice Terraces declared a GMO-free zone

Image | 18 March, 2009 at 13:34

The iconic Philippine rice Terraces, a UNESCO Living Cultural Heritage site, was declared a genetically-modified organism (GMO) free zone. Greenpeace volunteers together with local guides unfurled a giant banner with the words "GMO-FREE ZONE" at...

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