Something Monsanto This Way Comes
The AP has just published a harrowing investigation into the business practices of agriculture giant Monsanto, and the company does not come out looking very good. Coercion, monopolistic contracts, predatory licensing agreements, and widespread fraud are all par for Monsanto’s course.
With Monsanto’s patented genes being inserted into roughly 95 percent of all soybeans and 80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., the company also is using its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, according to a review of several Monsanto licensing agreements and dozens of interviews with seed industry participants, agriculture and legal experts.
Much has been said about the ethics of patenting genes and to what extent one can truly “own” a particular series of nucleotides, but these discussions are lost on Monsanto.
For example, one contract provision bans independent companies from breeding plants that contain both Monsanto’s genes and the genes of any of its competitors, unless Monsanto gives prior written permission _ giving Monsanto the ability to effectively lock out competitors from inserting their patented traits into the vast share of U.S. crops that already contain Monsanto’s genes.
Monsanto’s business strategies and licensing agreements are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and at least two state attorneys general, who are trying to determine if the practices violate U.S. antitrust laws. The practices also are at the heart of civil antitrust suits filed against Monsanto by its competitors, including a 2004 suit filed by Syngenta AG that was settled with an agreement and ongoing litigation filed this summer by DuPont in response to a Monsanto lawsuit.
By now, Monsanto has wrested control of a frightening proportion of agricultural seeds:
We now believe that Monsanto has control over as much as 90 percent of (seed genetics). This level of control is almost unbelievable,” said Neil Harl, agricultural economist at Iowa State University who has studied the seed industry for decades. “The upshot of that is that it’s tightening Monsanto’s control, and makes it possible for them to increase their prices long term. And we’ve seen this happening the last five years, and the end is not in sight.”
With a veritable monopoly on these seeds, Monsanto can raise its prices at will, and farmers will have to pay.
The price of seeds is already rising. Monsanto increased some corn seed prices last year by 25 percent, with an additional 7 percent hike planned for corn seeds in 2010. Monsanto brand soybean seeds climbed 28 percent last year and will be flat or up 6 percent in 2010, said company spokeswoman Kelli Powers.
So, uh… maybe somebody should do something about this?