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

 

Food, Fuel, Forests and Climate – the Biofuels Conundrum

Blog entry by Sini Harkki | 18 October, 2012 7 comments

Fossil fuels are killing our climate and we need to find alternatives. It’s a simple message that most people get, but what happens when one of the supposed alternatives also becomes not just a climate killer, but a driver of hunger...

Fuel for thought on World Food Day

Blog entry by Julian Oram | 16 October, 2012 3 comments

On this World Food Day, I am in Rome where government ministers attending the World Committee on Food Security are facing up to a sobering reality: the food world system is badly broken. From climate change, to biofuels and GE foods,...

Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional produce?

Blog entry by Reyes Tirado | 7 September, 2012 4 comments

Safer, healthier, but what about less toxic? Why not ask the question the other way around… Are foods from chemically intensive farms worse for humans and the planet than organic alternatives? An apple is an apple, and...

Chinese children used in US-backed GE food trial

Blog entry by Monica Tan | 31 August, 2012 32 comments

How would you feel if I told you that a group of scientists had come to the United States, and fed a group of 24 children aged between six and eight years of age a potentially dangerous product that had yet to be fully characterized?

How will the world react if India says no to GE food?

Blog entry by Rajesh Krishnan | 17 August, 2012 10 comments

Genetically engineered (GE) food is a hot button topic in India. What happens here often sends ripples throughout the GE debate worldwide, but what happened last week is surely a major milestone. The Parliamentary Standing...

Climate change, spiraling food prices and what the world must do next

Blog entry by Julian Oram | 12 July, 2012 16 comments

Finally, people are coming out in droves and talking openly about the links between climate change, extreme weather events… and food prices. In the US, one of the largest producers of wheat, soy and corn, the Department of...

Rising Powers Take the Floor at Rio+20

Blog entry by Yong Rong, Greenpeace East Asia | 17 June, 2012 3 comments

Last week, I kissed my five-year-old daughter goodbye in Beijing and got on a flight bound for Rio de Janeiro. 25 hours later, I joined some 50,000 other people in Rio for the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Absent from that big crowd,...

Illegal GE canola found growing in Swiss port area

Blog entry by Akiko Frid | 31 May, 2012 2 comments

Genetically Engineered (GE) oilseed rape, or GE canola, was recently found growing in Switzerland where nobody actually cultivates it. Switzerland has in fact had a GE moratorium in place since 2005 and the import of GE crops in...

Precaution is simply common sense

Blog entry by Paul Johnston and David Santillo | 24 May, 2012 1 comment

Using precaution to avoid environmental problems makes sense right? Well, that is what is called the Precautionary Approach. Opponents argue that precaution is a recipe for inaction, that it stands in the way of innovation and that it...

Facing up to the costs of stamping out GE corn

Blog entry by Federica Ferrario | 22 May, 2012 3 comments

Imagine you stumble upon an oil spill that needs immediate attention to prevent substantial environmental damage, but even when you contact the authorities nothing happens. You feel completely lost when you realise no one cares. What...

61 - 70 of 232 results.

Categories