While most of us were enjoying our Thanksgiving dinners of factory-farmed turkeys and GMO Korn, the Department of Justice quietly dropped its antitrust investigation of Monsanto without so much as an announcement. This is the Friday news dump taken to a new level. Or maybe it was our government giving thanks to a corporation that is quickly taking over our food production system and is increasing its power to frightening levels.
If it weren't for Monsanto saying something we may never have known that the investigation was dropped. Monsanto released the information no doubt to boost investor confidence and reassure profit-holders that all was well in the land of frankenfood.
Motherjones is reporting that the DOJ mysteriously dropped the case with no explanation:
A DOJ spokesperson confirmed to me that the agency had "closed its investigation into possible anticompetitive practices in the seed industry," but would divulge no details. "In making its decision, the Antitrust Division took into account marketplace developments that occurred during the pendency of the investigation," she stated via email. I asked what precisely those "marketplace developments" were. "I don’t have anything else for you," she replied.I don't have anything else for you. Sound familiar? Throw in "people" at the end of that line and you get a sense of the blatant disregard some within our government have for "transparency" and providing the people they serve with information they deserve. I guess a FOA request would suffice to get the information needed as to why the DOJ quietly dropped its case, and with no explanation, against Monsanto, but why must this be the case? The way this is being handled smells of something deeper going on.
The anti-trust case concerned Monsanto's seed division and possible anti-competitive practices in the seed industry. Monsanto's patented genetically modified organism traits end up in 98% of GM soybeans, 79% of GM corn, and about 79% of GM cotton grown in the U.S. Concerning the seeds themselves, just 4 companies (Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, and Dow) control 80% of all seeds sold in the U.S.
A clear sign that a market is anti-competitive is continued rising costs of products sold over time. In a healthy market with robust competition, new products start off at high prices and decline over time as competition brings prices down. Look at TVs or computers for an example. But in the corporate agribusiness model prices for seeds and GMO products have NOT been falling over time. Since 2000 prices farmers are paying to Monsanto for its seeds and GMO products have been steadily increasing.
We've been told since the 1990's that biotech giants like Monsanto were going to "feed the world" and create new plants resistant to disease, pests and weeds and increase yields for farmers. Rising costs surely must be due to innovation and the increasingly sophisticated technology that Monsanto churns out? Right?
First, how about those claims of increasing yields:
Failure to Yield is the first report to closely evaluate the overall effect genetic engineering has had on crop yields in relation to other agricultural technologies. It reviewed two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States. Based on those studies, the UCS report concludes that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report finds, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.Wait. Over the past 13 years any gains in yield were the result of traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices? What about rising costs to farmers as Monsanto continues to raise its prices on seeds and GMO products? A result of innovation and new product development. Right?
Wrong. Monsanto is offering the same Bt and herbicide resistant crops it offered in the '90's showing little or no effect on crop yield. In fact, the only new products Monsanto offers today or plans to offer in the future are just intensified versions of what they already offer allowing MORE toxic chemicals to be sprayed. These "new" products are a response to a problem Monsanto created: superweeds.
Superweeds have developed as a result of weeds developing a resistance to Monsanto's RoundUp herbicide. So what worked for a while eventually succumbed to the laws of nature, or, evolution (i.e. natural selection). The problem with the idea that complete eradication of weeds is the answer is that we'll never achieve the complete eradication of weeds. There will always be weeds and there will always be survivors of the chemical warfare being enacted in our fields. Time and again we've seen chemical companies offer more chemicals which work for a little while (maybe even as long as 10 or 15 years) only to watch as weeds slowly make their way back into our fields and stand strong against the chemical agents we douse them with. And of course the chemical companies escalate the war and tell farmers to spray more and spray with this new chemical that is sure to work. But the new superweeds that have developed in response to Monsanto's RoundUp are having a devastating effect on crops across the U.S.
Monsanto's RoundUp Ready corn has led to superweeds developing and engulfing farmer's fields and are completely resistant to Monsanto's herbicide RoundUp. But Monsanto, along with Dow Chemical, have a solution to the problem they created. A New CORN!!!!! Dow is seeking approval from the USDA, which is sure to be approved by the way, of its toxic chemical 2, 4-D resistant corn. The chemical 2,4-D (the defoliant in Agent Orange used in Vietnam) does not discriminate between plants and will kill "non-target" plants raising concerns of farmers because of the issue of drift. The two biotech giants are teaming up to develop new formulations of 2,4-D and dicamba so that farmers can douse their fields with even more chemicals (now up to 3!) that both Dow Chemical and Monsanto have graciously provided. Investors in both companies can rest assured that when the new superweeds develop Dow Chemical and Monsanto will be there to solve the problem they created.
Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant says competitors’ efforts to develop their own herbicide-tolerant crops isn’t a threat to the company’s flagship business. Seed companies will cross-license each others’ genetics to create crops able to withstand multiple weedkillers, he says, and spraying fields with a mix of herbicides will kill the superweeds and give Roundup Ready crops new life. Monsanto itself is adding resistance to dicamba, an older weedkiller, to Roundup Ready crops for sale by 2015. “The cavalry is coming,” Grant says.That "cavalry" Mr. Grant is referring to is toxic chemicals that are fighting a war Monsanto et.al. created. How convenient for Monsanto's profits but so deleterious to the health of our soils, food, and farmers.
But as Professor William G. Johnson, a weed scientist at Purdue University notes, it's only a matter of time before these "new" crops, which allow now up to 3 or 4 different chemicals to douse them, create more superweeds:
“We could get these new technologies and be in wedded bliss for 10 or 15 years, but they do select for their own failure.”And that is precisely why Monsanto et.al. have profited so nicely over the last 20 years. They create a problem, then they create the solution that binds farmers in an ever escalating war. Farmers contend with increasing prices and no improvement in yield but corporate agribusiness soars on in profit earnings. Wall Street wins again.
Oh, I just realized something. Monsanto did develop a "new" product that may have contrbruted to increasing seed and GMO porduct prices all these years. They unveiled a new "drought tolerant corn" that was sure to be a huge success. Except. It wasn't. It failed and even the completely captured USDA had to admit it was no better than non-GMO corn:
"It is prudent to acknowledge that the reduced yield-loss phenotype of MON 87360 does not exceed the natural variation observed in regionally-adapted varieties of conventional corn (representing different genetic backgrounds)."In other words, traditional methods perform as well or better than Monsanto's supposedly "high tech" creations. But no worry, Monsanto is going to Feed The World!
SO we have increasing prices in a market with little or no innovation to explain the sustained rises. We have companies in an industry whittled down to just 4 corporations teaming up to offer products that solve problems they create. We have the revolving door of Monsanto lobbyists in and out of our government and back to the boardrooms of the industry giants controlling 80% of our nation's food production system. Current Supreme Court Justices with former ties to Monsanto, our current Secretary of Agriculture, various program heads in USDA, FDA, and USAID, all illustrate the tentacles Monsanto reserves within our regulatory system. I'm sure there's nothing to see here in terms of antitrust practices. No wonder the DOJ decided to drop its case without a peep on Thanksgiving. It was black Friday for Pete's sake! No need to dim the holiday shopping spree!
*note: I am involved in farming and love what I do. I eat and grow organically because it is the tastiest, most nutritious way to produce food. Studies have shown, and continue to show, that organic production methods produce yields matching or surpassing chemical farming. Recently the World Bank and the UN Food Program changed their long-held tune that only chemical farming and biotech could "feed the world." They are now encouraging developing countries to go back to their traditional farming practices as a result of a failure of chemical farming and biotech to show any increase in yields (but they have shown an increase in costs to farmers, see India for information about suicide rates among farmers who took on chemical farming). All of this is for another diary. I just wanted to highlight a little about how the destructive practices encouraged by our own USDA and corporate agribusiness have done little to improve agricultural practices or protect our precious natural resources (soil and water) and have only led to a consolidation of the industry to just a few big players with only increasing profits to show for all their "feed the world" rhetoric.
Peace, and be healthy.
Update: Just finished watching the documentary Food Fight and found it to be entertaining, informative, and related to the issues presented in this diary. The food revolution continues!