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

 

Exported: Chinese herbs laced with toxic pesticides

Blog entry by Eric Darier | July 1, 2013 8 comments

Although widely known since 2009 as the world's largest exporter, a new Greenpeace East Asia investigation has revealed that China is also exporting traditional Chinese herbs laced with a toxic cocktail of pesticide residues. ...

Pesticides Cocktail

Slideshow | June 24, 2013

Pesticides: the secret ingredient in Chinese herbal products?

Blog entry by Eric Darier | June 24, 2013 16 comments

Traditional Chinese herbs have a strong reputation for their medicinal benefits, but a Greenpeace East Asia investigation has revealed that these herbs are coated in a toxic cocktail of pesticide residues, posing long-term health risks...

The fake promises of GE crops

Blog entry by Janet Cotter | June 21, 2013 5 comments

There's been a lot of 'noise' recently about how genetically engineered (GE) crops can help "feed the world", and that they can help agriculture in a climate-affected world. But are these promises real or just hype? If we look at...

Honey Bee Collapse: A Lesson in Ecology

Blog entry by Rex Weyler | June 10, 2013 5 comments

"In the last four years, the chemical industry has spent $11.2 million on a PR initiative to say it's not their fault, so we know whose fault it is." ― Jon Cooksey, writer, director: How to Boil a Frog . We know what is killing...

When will governments learn that GE crops are uncontrollable?

Blog entry by Janet Cotter | May 31, 2013 1 comment

Shockwaves are being felt across the world's wheat markets following the first-ever discovery of unauthorised genetically engineered wheat growing on a US farm – a development that gives further proof that GE crops cannot be controlled...

Knowledge is key to biodiversity, not technology

Blog entry by Iza Kruszewska | May 14, 2013

Agribusiness and commodity traders are thin on the ground at this week’s FAO conference in Rome on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition. Despite its title, this event is of little interest to Big Food. After all, this conference is...

EU bans three bee-killer pesticides: a light of hope for bees and agriculture

Blog entry by Matthias Wüthrich | May 3, 2013 4 comments

The next time you see a bee buzzing around, it’s worthwhile remembering that much of the food we eat depends significantly on pollination these insects provide. But bees and other pollinators are declining globally, particularly in...

Bees in decline: how long will Syngenta deny science?

Blog entry by Marianne Kuenzle | April 23, 2013 1 comment

Today, six days before the key EU vote to ban bee-killer pesticides, Greenpeace is attending the annual general meeting (AGM) of Syngenta in Basel, Switzerland, in order to alert shareholders to the company’s role in the global decline...

UglyFood: the other truth about chemical fertilisers in China

Blog entry by Alessandro Saccoccio | April 16, 2013 2 comments

We recently blogged about a Greenpeace East Asia investigation which uncovered the ‘ugly side of food’, and exposed a phosphate fertilizers manufacturing scandal in Sichuan, China . We also sadly witnessed how chemical fertilizers...

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