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

 

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Not for bees and pesticides!

Blog entry by Reyes Tirado | 12 April, 2012 4 comments

I like to think that this old saying is true for some things in life: a broken heart, an economic crisis or running a marathon. If you manage to survive and once the pain is gone, you will feel better and stronger than before. But this...

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Clean water means food for all

Blog entry by Caroline Jacobsson | 22 March, 2012 4 comments

We all need water to survive, we need it to drink and we need it to produce food to eat. On 22 March 2012 the world is celebrating the World Water Day , organised by the United Nations. The focus of this year's event is water and its...

Ministry of Agriculture Action in Mexico

Image | 8 March, 2012 at 9:45

Thirty Greenpeace activists take a three metre high mobile phone to the Ministry of Agriculture (SAGARPA), in Mexico City. To send a message to the agency to not ignore the message of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food – Olivier de...

Month in Pictures, February

Slideshow | 1 March, 2012

China hammers nails into the GE coffin – what country is next?

Blog entry by Caroline Jacobsson | 27 February, 2012 2 comments

Recently China proposed to legislate against genetically engineered (GE) grains. This means that staple foods, such as rice cannot be researched, planted or sold on the Chinese market nor can it be exported. Greenpeace China has...

Brewing climate friendly tea in the garden

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Eat it up Monsanto!

Blog entry by Caroline Jacobsson | 10 February, 2012 35 comments

There's a story doing the rounds again ,  about how Monsanto, one of the world’s largest profiteers of genetically engineered (GE) food, banned GE food from its own corporate canteens! Monsanto had its pants pulled down by Friends...

China says 'no' to genetically engineered rice

Feature story | 31 January, 2012 at 11:15

It took seven years, teams of young campaigners and hordes of devoted supporters, but September 2011 the Chinese government finally said it was suspending the commercialisation of genetically-engineered (GE) rice.

Chemical giant BASF flees Europe - no bad potatoes here please!

Blog entry by Marco Contiero & Lasse Bruun | 20 January, 2012 9 comments

The biggest chemical company in the world, BASF, is moving to the US because Europeans don’t want its genetically engineered potatoes. Just days ago, the company announced its decision to move its main laboratory for the development of...

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