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

 

Monitoring of Genetically engineered crops: European commission fails to protect EU...

Publication | 15 February, 2005 at 0:00

EU comission misleads member states when asserting that Monsanto's GE maize Mon810 has been thouroughly assessed for environmental risk and meets all EU requirements under current EU legisalation.

Genetically Engineered Fish - New Threats to the Environment

Publication | 5 January, 2005 at 0:00

This briefing examines the development of genetically engineered (GE) fish, which could soon be produced on a commercial scale.

Genetically Engineered Rice: Not Sustainable Agriculture

Publication | 1 October, 2004 at 0:00

The genetic industry is trying to commercialise genetically engineered (GE, sometimes called genetically modified, GM, or transgenic) rice because they believe GE rice will open the Asian engineering market to other GE crops (Brookes and Barfoot...

Rice at Risk: Will there be a choice with GE Rice?

Publication | 1 October, 2004 at 0:00

Proponents of genetic engineering argue that "co-existence" of genetically engineered (GE, sometimes called genetic modified, GM or transgenic) and non-GE rice is possible.They argue that countries, and even neighbouring farmers, will be able to...

The European Union's new labelling rules for genetically engineered food and feed

Publication | 16 June, 2004 at 0:00

The European Union implemented new labelling and traceability legislation for genetically modified food, feed and ingredients in April 2004. They are the strictest world-wide. These new rules, which apply to the world's largest single market,...

No old GMOs in new Europe

Publication | 15 June, 2004 at 0:00

With the enlargement of the European Union a lot of things will change, but one will remain the same: the EU-wide permission for the 18 Gentically Modified Organisms (GMO)currently authorized within the EU. However, the area for which they are...

CEC findings on Maize contamination in Mexico

Publication | 15 June, 2004 at 0:00

This document outlines the Commission for Environmental Cooperation's (CEC) scientific findings on Maize contamination in Mexico produced on behalf of the indigenous and local communities in Oaxaca whose territories have been contaminated by...

Herbicide usage increases with herbicide tolerant genetically engineered plants

Publication | 15 June, 2004 at 0:00

After eight years of cultivation in the United States, a new evaluation on the impact of genetically engineered (GE) plants in agriculture shows dramatically increasing amounts of herbicides being used with herbicide tolerant GE crops. This...

Hanging in the balance: GE battle in Brazil

Publication | 15 June, 2004 at 0:00

Half the world's soya is now Genetically Engineered (GE), and for several years Brazil has been the only major soya exporting country with a ban on GE soya. Consumers in Brazil and in the major markets for Brazilian soya remain strongly opposed...

The true cost of gene patents

Publication | 15 June, 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...

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