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

 

Esperanza investigates agrotoxics in the Gulf of California

Blog entry by Maïa Booker | 13 August, 2015 1 comment

The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is currently on the second leg of its tour in the Gulf of California, investigating toxic chemicals associated with agriculture. Last week, activists sent a message to food companies Bimbo, La Costeña, and...

On the shiny trail of snails

Blog entry by Christiane Huxdorff and Christine Gebeneter | 3 August, 2015

Everybody knows those little not invited guests in our gardens. Snails and their relatives – slugs. How to get rid of them? Especially with some warm and wet weather periods they show up en masse and feed themselves from the...

Silo restaurant: Pre-industrial food and "food interception"

Blog entry by Iza Kruszewska | 26 June, 2015

What's that about you may well ask? That's the same question I asked myself when I visited their website. So I decided to check it out. Walking into Silo, I'm greeted by a table laden with sourdough sandwiches stuffed with...

Of Seeds and Men: How a French farmer created a seed house

Blog entry by Pierre Dudout | 10 June, 2015

The magic of seeds has always fascinated me. As a child I liked to watch the beans growing in the garden, their bent stem gently emerging from the ground to defy the sun, opening up to deploy their first leaves in the wind. I would...

How our breakfast choice can change the food system

Blog entry by Reyes Tirado | 18 May, 2015 2 comments

8:00 am, Monday, southern Spain: "What's for breakfast, Mom?" Everyday, at least three times a day, we are faced with the same question: What to eat? For almost 1 billion people in the world this is a painful question, with an...

Those who produce our food suffer the most

Blog entry by Kirsten Thompson | 12 May, 2015 2 comments

How pesticides affect farmers' and our health. At Greenpeace we have been campaigning against the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture for a long time. Not only because they are not necessary for food production, in fact...

When industrial food fails us, it's time to change the food system

Blog entry by Alessandro Saccoccio | 11 May, 2015 6 comments

The current food system is broken. We all see how industrial and chemical intensive food production impacts on people and farmers, the planet and animals. For example, did you know that in 2007, 269 tonnes of pesticides were used...

Celebrating ecologically farmed food in Nairobi

Blog entry by Taahir Chagan | 22 April, 2015

On 25 April we will celebrate ecologically farmed food in all its splendour by hosting a fun food fair in the heart of Nairobi at Central Park. We will have an authentic  Kenyan Cook-off contest , where the budding chefs will be...

The grass is always greener on the other side (as long your neighbor doesn’t use Roundup)

Blog entry by Patrizia Cuonzo | 22 April, 2015 5 comments

Today is Earth Day, and approximately one month since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed-killer, probably causes cancer . In the Netherlands, where I live,...

Glyphosate's under the spotlight

Blog entry by Patrizia Cuonzo | 30 March, 2015 1 comment

Pesticide Action Week 2015 had just started when I had read some interesting news: "Roundup weedkiller 'probably'* causes cancer, says WHO study" The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – an agency affiliated...

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