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

 

The true cost of gene patents

Publication | June 15, 2004 at 0:00

The patenting of living organisms continues to be extremely controversial in Europe. Large sections of the general public and politicians continue to reject the patenting of genes and living organisms. This document outlines the social and...

GM and Dairy Cow Feed: Steps to a GM-free Future for the UK Dairy Industry

Publication | May 13, 2004 at 0:00

GM and Dairy Cow Feed: Steps to a GM-free Future for the UK Dairy Industry illustrates how the UK dairy industry can be both GE-free and independent of imports in the future by growing protein-rich crops such as lupins for cattle feed.

The impact of GM corn in Spain

Publication | August 26, 2003 at 0:00

Spain is the only country in the European Union that tolerates the release of genetically engineered crops on a commercial scale. Though only cultivated on relatively small areas, the potential impact of Syngenta's GE maize on environment,...

Al grano: impacto del maíz transgénico en España

Publication | August 26, 2003 at 0:00

Maize Under Threat - GE Maize Contamination in Mexico

Publication | August 18, 2003 at 0:00

Hands Off Our Maize Briefing Package.

Genetically engineered papaya - unknown plant

Publication | July 3, 2003 at 0:00

Genetic engineering is a crude and old fashioned technology. The mechanism by which genetically engineered (GE) papaya is resistant to Papaya Ringspot virus (PRSV) is not known. The environmental risks of GE papaya are difficult to define because...

Precaution Before Profits - GE field trials put our environment, food and fields at risk

Publication | July 2, 2003 at 0:00

Field trials of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Thailand threaten irreversible environmental harm, increasing the risk of GE contamination in our food and in our fields.

Patented papaya - Extending control over food & fields

Publication | July 2, 2003 at 0:00

The European Union’s new labelling rules for food and feed - Implications for the...

Publication | July 2, 2003 at 0:00

The European Union's new Regulation on genetically engineered (GE) food and feed together with the regulation on traceability were finally adopted on July 2nd 2003 by the European Parliament. These regulations will substantially change the rules...

Precaution Before Profits - GE field trials put our environment, food and fields at...

Publication | June 19, 2003 at 0:00

2003 Update version - Field trials of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Thailand threaten irreversible environmental harm, increasing the risk of GE contamination in our food and in our fields.

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