Agribusinesses Consolidate Power

E. Starmer and M. D. Anderson | May 06, 2008

At all stages of the food system—from seeds and other inputs to food processing and retail food sales—market power is concentrating in an ever smaller number of corporate firms. This trend is transforming how the world produces food, squeezing millions of farmers between a small group of input suppliers and an equally concentrated group of commodity purchasers, and in turn influencing the food choices available to consumers.

Concentration begins at the input stage in agriculture. Three companies control about half of the global agrochemical market: Bayer, Syngenta, and BASF.1 Use of genetically modified (GM) seeds has risen dramatically since these were first commercialized in the mid-1990s—now 45 percent of the corn and 85 percent of the soybeans grown in the United States are GM.2 By branching out into plant biotechnol­ogy, huge chemical and pharmaceutical companies such as Monsanto have gained control over critical agricultural inputs that reach into food systems around the world. In 2004, land planted with Monsanto seeds accounted for 88 percent of the total area in GM crops world­wide.3 Once a global commons, genetic resources are now subject to Intellectual Property Rights protections. Developing countries are forced to deal with large transnational companies to get access to improved seed varieties and plant breeding technologies.4

Other input markets are similarly concen­trated. In the United States, Mosaic—a com-pany created out of a merger between Cargill and IMC Global—controls 50–60 percent of the synthetic fertilizer market, while four firms control over 80 percent of the market for farm equipment.5 Four companies control 60 percent of terminal grain facilities, and Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and Zen Noh control 81 percent of U.S. corn exports and 65 percent of soybean exports.6 Cargill has the largest global terminal capacity, handling significant grain exports in Canada, the United States, Brazil, and Argentina.7 It owns and operates a worldwide transportation network of ships, trucks, barges, railcars, and grain elevators for storage. Cargill is also among the top three beef producers in the United States and plays an important role in poultry production.8

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