What the Bayer-Monsanto Merger Means for the Food System

Bayer’s purchase of seed and agrochemical giant Monsanto, a $66 billion deal, is finally done. It’s likely very bad news for already-strapped farmers, who are worried about a lack of choice in their purchasing and higher prices they won’t be able to avoid or afford. Corporate consolidation in the food system isn’t new, and it’s led to increased prices for consumers as well as lower pay for farmers.

In 2010, Eric Holder and the Department of Justice, under the Obama administration, held a series of hearings to examine how consolidation across five sectors of the food industry — from dairy to beef to poultry — was affecting producers and to assess “the appropriate role for antitrust and regulatory enforcement in that industry.” The hearings were packed, the news was dire and farmers and sustainable food advocates were hopeful the DOJ would act. Nothing came of those hearings.

In the US right now, four companies control 60 percent of the chicken marketfour companies control 85 percent of the beef market and, in 2015, just four companies produced about 50 percent of the pork. Increased prices and worse pay are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consolidation’s effects. To learn more, read our piece about why consolidation in the food system is bad for farmers and bad for eaters.

One additional outcome of the merger is Bayer’s removal of the name “Monsanto,” and along with it the shorthand many have established for their frustration with big businesses’ takeover of our food system. It’s a canny move on Bayer’s part since their name is equally as recognizable, but less charged.

This particular merger is also interesting because, while it represents the merging of the biggest pesticide purveyor with the biggest seed purveyor, there’s also the less talked about implications of Big Pharma merging with Big Ag. Bayer manufactures antibiotics for animals, and antibiotics are used widely in industrial agriculture, problematically so. Bayer is, it seems, making money at several links along the food chain, not just on the crop side.

For people who care about how their food is produced, just because the name Monsanto goes away, it doesn’t mean we forget the company’s practices that continue to harm the environment and imperil public health. How they have helped create superweeds. How they’ve made glyphosate, likely a carcinogen, an industrial farming staple. How they have prosecuted farmers for seed saving. Bayer will still be selling Roundup and genetically modified, Roundup Ready seeds. These continue to be important issues demanding action, and we will continue to care, whether or not the word “Monsanto” drops from common parlance.

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