September 16, 2016
A year or two from now, Monsanto—that company millions of Americans love to hate—may be nearly unrecognizable. In fact, there’s a small chance that the name “Monsanto” might not even exist anymore. Before you pop a bottle of organic bubbly, wait: there’s more to the story.
If government regulators here and in Europe give their stamp of approval, Monsanto will be acquired by Germany-based pharmaceutical company Bayer for a cool $66 billion dollars. The two companies are hoping to have the deal approved and inked by the end of 2017. If you’re not crazy about Monsanto’s patents on seeds, production of the world-leading herbicide, and support of genetically modified organisms, it’s not likely that any of that will go away with this deal. Here’s a rundown of why the Bayer-Monsanto deal could actually make things worse for those of us advocating for a cleaner, fairer, and more transparent food system.
A Bayer acquisition of Monsanto would create the world’s largest biotechnology company, by a long shot. On its own, Monsanto holds more than 1,700 patents and controls the seeds of 90 percent of the United States-grown soybean market and 80 percent of the corn market. Its herbicide RoundUp and RoundUp-ready genetically engineered seeds are used the world over. Despite falling profits, Monsanto is still raking in close to a billion dollars per quarter. Monsanto would be joining hands with the $102 billion-company Bayer, creating a mega-corporation that would sell nearly 30 percent of the world’s seeds and 25 percent of its pesticides. This continues a pattern of consolidation we’ve seen throughout the industrial food system, where smaller companies are gobbled up by a handful of large corporations.
Last year alone, Monsanto spent $4.3 million lobbying the United States Congress. Imagine the global lobbying power Monsanto and Bayer—two multi-billion-dollar companies—will have when they join forces. “They’ll have a lot more power to shape policies that benefit themselves at the expense of consumers and farmers,” Phil Howard of Michigan State University, who studies food industry consolidation, told Vox. We’re talking policies like the DARK Act, the weak GMO labeling bill passed this year, or the relaxing of regulations around chemicals and biotechnology.
When former rivals join hands and become one, the merger tends to lead to less urgency around developing new and innovative ways to manage crops and grow food. Instead, what we’re likely to see is the development (on the Monsanto side) of even more chemical herbicides and pesticides, along with their sister GE seeds. Some farmers are already concerned about price increases without new technologies to go with it. What’s more, some observers say that as consolidated companies spend less on research and development, they direct what funds they do spend to innovation around their big-moneymakers: corn and soy. We hardly need any more corn and soy innovation; production of both crops is at an all-time high, which has sent prices plummeting.
Consolidations of agribusinesses can mean money out of the pockets of farmers—precisely the individuals companies like Monsanto and Bayer say they exist to serve. How? Two ways: in the wake of a blockbuster merger, a company will often seek to cut costs, opening the door to raising prices on their products. And long-term, when there is less competition among biotech companies for customers, farmers sometimes see prices creep up.
There’s a chance—though nothing is set in stone—that Bayer will cut its losses with Monsanto’s toxic brand and eliminate its name from the company altogether. Bayer CEO Werner Baumann suggested as much in May. But make no mistake: Monsanto’s pernicious activities—genetically modifying seeds, developing harmful chemicals, suing farmers for reusing patented seeds, and the like—will continue, albeit under the much more trusted Bayer brand.
In other words, if it’s even possible, our corporatized food system may get even more corporate—and far less transparent.
Photo credit: Unsplash
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