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

 

'Fed Up' with big AgriBusiness

Blog entry by Myrto Pispini | 21 January, 2014

Since ancient times food has not only been about eating, but also about sharing. Whether it's the same plate, the same table, or the same central Berlin square; food is an important force for social gathering. Sharing conversations,...

'Golden' rice ignores the risks, the people and the real solutions

Blog entry by Daniel Ocampo | 8 January, 2014

'Golden' rice is being promoted by GM advocates as a solution to malnutrition. But it should be for the 'target populations' in the Philippines and elsewhere to decide whether to accept the technology - and they don't want it! ...

2013: The Year In Photos

Feature story | 24 December, 2013 at 13:30

The year 2013 has been very eventful for Greenpeace on all points of the compass. Whether it be turning around a cargo container filled with fin whale meat in Hamburg, getting the palm oil industry to think twice about deforestation in Indonesia,...

2013: The Year In Photos

Slideshow | 24 December, 2013

Dripping Poison

Publication | 16 December, 2013 at 8:30

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has carried out reviews of the neonicotinoid pesticides thiamethoxam, imidacloprid and clothianidin in order to assess the possible risks posed by these systemic insecticides to bees.

Golden Illusion

Publication | 17 October, 2013 at 17:53

GE 'Golden' rice is a genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified, GM) rice variety developed by the biotech industry to produce pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene). Proponents portray GE 'Golden' rice as a technical, quick-fix solut...

Fighting world hunger: Who deserves our praise?

Blog entry by Christine Campeau | 16 October, 2013 1 comment

Today is World Food Day, a chance to celebrate the millions of farmers around the world who put food on our tables. Yesterday, some of these farmers were awarded the Food Sovereignty Prize by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance,...

The man who showed us all the true threat in the Arctic

Blog entry by John Novis, Head of Photography, Greenpeace Int'l | 27 September, 2013 10 comments

A photo is key when it comes to bearing witness and Greenpeace has been a leading organization in visuals for over forty years. We go to the frontline of environmental issues to see for ourselves what is happening so that we can show...

AGRA: helping agribusiness conquer African agriculture?

Blog entry by Iza Kruszewska and Glen Tyler | 6 September, 2013 3 comments

Finally, we have confirmation of what we have long suspected: AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, has been created to facilitate the corporate takeover of African agriculture, not support African smallholder farmers...

No strawberries in winter

Blog entry by Wil van Egdom | 29 August, 2013 1 comment

As a father of three young children, I want my kids to eat good quality food, now and forever. Nevertheless, the threat of decreased food quality, and its availability in the near future, is eminent. Our current agricultural system is...

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