Rising Power Of Industrial Agri: A Cause For Concern

Updated: Sep 22 2003, 05:30am hrs
How about having a fish gene in your tomatoes Or for that matter, how would you react if the farmers face several years of jail sentences for storing seeds manufactured by some of the transnational seed companies Well, among others these are some of the realities that are emerging fast on the world of global agriculture, which over the past five decades has turned into industrial agriculture, starkly different from earlier small, family-oriented farms raising a variety of crops and animals.

The ongoing process of economic concentration has allowed the biggest agri-businesses by and large to define and control the modern food system. Currently, in the US, only eight per cent of farms account for 72 per cent of sales; worldwide the top 10 seed companies now control 30 per cent of the $24.4 billion seed market (the top three being DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta). The top 10 agrochemical corporations control 84 per cent of the $30 billion agrochemical market (the top three: Syngenta, Monsanto and Bayer).

Big agribusiness is now commercialising genetically engineered crops. Unlike conventionally bred plants, genetically modified organisms contain DNA in which bioengineers have inserted one or more genes selected literally from the pool of all known life.

The advent of genetically altered crops has deepened corporate control of food by accelerating economic concentration and changing property rights around seeds. The development and marketing of agricultural biotechnology prompted new rounds of mergers and acquisitions of seed, agrochemical and biotechnology companies. In fact, the top seven agricultural biotech companies are now also the top agrochemical corporations and rank among the top 10 seed corporations.

Using new intellectual property rights, these companies are patenting new forms of life and licensing biotech seeds rather than selling them. Licensing agreements typically outlaw the farmers use and breeding of second generation seeds and pose other requirements.

Concentration in the inputs sectors pesticides, herbicides, gene altered seeds and the like exposes farmers to artificially high cost seeds, chemicals and other farming products, while concentration in commodity markets artificially lowers farm-gate prices, squeezing farmer profits. As a result, small farms are disappearing. In the US, for example, there were 5.4 million farms in 1950 but by 1997, these had declined to just over two million. Despite this decline, four-fifths of US agricultural subsidies go to the top 30 per cent of farms. In the Third World, agribusiness development and opening of markets to large-scale heavily subsidised, foreign farm products is causing even more extensive displacement of small farmers.

Excerpted from Global Pesticide Campaigner, August 2003.