If This “Cartel” Doesn’t Scare You, It Should

Wish books! Many of these carry seeds from small, independent producers.

Wish books! Most of these carry open-pollinated seeds from small, independent producers.

We live in a global age. That’s great when it comes to communication, but probably not so great when it comes to agriculture.
One of the strengths of our world has always been its diversity. Plants and animals adapted in various ways to allow them to survive and thrive in deserts, rainforests, tundra and grasslands. If a species of melon in the U.S. became extinct, it WAS a loss, but plenty of other options existed. Open-pollinated seeds allowed gardeners to develop their very own varieties, adapted to their microclimates, that were subtly different from one garden, one county or one country to the next. Gardeners traded seeds. Immigrants brought them to the new country — any new country. If you had a crop failure, it usually wasn’t a disaster. Either you had saved some of your seeds (because you knew about crop failures) or your neighbor had some to spare.
The problem with a global village is that there are always some folks who want to corner the global market.
I recently ran across a report by the ETC Group that makes me very nervous. ETC, by the way, stands for Erosion, Technology and Concentration. Here’s the link if you want to peruse it for yourself.
ETC Group tries to keep an eye on technological development, ecological erosion (including erosion of cultures and human rights) and the subject of this post — corporate concentration. Concentration not meaning thinking (which is all too often subsumed under the mantle of greed) but concentration along the lines of one hand on the reins. Generally speaking, economists agree that any time four or fewer companies control more than 40 percent of the sales in a commercial sector, the market isn’t free any more. Nor is it healthy (remember, health almost invariably means diversity). And a cartel is a cartel, whether it’s distributing drugs, Round-up or GMO seeds.
In 2013 the ETC Group reported the following facts:
• Three firms control 53 percent of the worldwide seed business.
• Ten corporations control 76 percent of the seed market.
• Monsanto has 26 percent of the world seed market.
• Six firms own 76 percent of the agro-chemical market.
• The top 10 pesticide firms control 95 percent of the market.
• Seven firms (all of which are subsidiaries of major human drug firms) control 72 percent of the market for animal pharmaceuticals.
• Ninety-seven percent of the poultry strains in the world are under the domination of four firms.
• In swine, four companies control two-thirds of the research and development in swine.
• Six multinationals control 75% of all private sector plant breeding research; 60% of the commercial seed market and 76% of global agrochemical sales. They are Monsanto (no surprise there), DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow and BASF (although BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world, doesn’t do seeds).
This is decidedly Not A Good Thing, to paraphrase Winnie-ther-Pooh (no, that’s not a misspelling, and if you’ve read the original WTP books you’ll know that; if you haven’t read them, I recommend them). Monsanto does corporate bullying well, but I will be dipped in s—t if I want them deciding what seeds I can grow or foods I can eat.
ETC Group hasn’t updated those figures in almost 2 years – wonder what they look like now?

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