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

 

The Bees' Burden

Publication | April 16, 2014 at 7:30

This study reports concentrations of pesticides found in pollen brought back to hives by foraging bees, and sampled using pollen traps or direct from the comb. This is one of the most extensive studies of pesticides in bee-collected pollen...

Dripping Poison

Publication | December 16, 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 | October 17, 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...

Bees in Decline

Publication | April 9, 2013 at 5:30

Honeybees and wild pollinators play a crucial role in agriculture and food production. However, the current chemical-intensive agriculture model is threatening both, and thereby putting food supply at risk

Ecological Livestock

Publication | February 12, 2013 at 11:41

Options for reducing livestock production and consumption to fit within ecological limits, with a focus in Europe.

Glyphosate-tolerant crops in the EU

Publication | October 30, 2012 at 14:51

Renowned agricultural economist Dr. Charles Benbrook was commissioned by Greenpeace International to make the first ever forecast of how Europe would be impacted by the authorisation of the cultivation of herbicide-tolerant, genetically-engineered...

Herbicide tolerance and GM crops

Publication | June 30, 2011 at 6:00

The widespread and increasingly intensive use of glyphosate in association with the use of GM (genetically modified) crops poses further risks to the environment and human health.

Genetically Engineered Maize: The Reality Behind the Myths

Publication | March 1, 2011 at 14:06

Currently the world’s big agrochemical firms that produce GE seeds – notably Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta - are investing millions of dollars every year to promote so-called benefits of the use of their GE technology. But the truth is that many...

'Golden' rice's lack of lustre

Publication | November 9, 2010 at 2:00

'Golden' rice has been in development for almost 20 years and has still not made any impact on the prevalence of VAD (vitamin A deficiency). Not only has it failed to have any impact on VAD while using money and resources that could have been...

Thai Rice Industry at Risk

Publication | October 12, 2010 at 9:46

Thailand is the largest exporter of rice in the world, and the Thai rice industry is therefore heavily dependent on the perceptions of its export customers. An unintended release of GE rice would disrupt Thailand’s rice grain merchandising...

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