By Tom Philpott | Mother Jones
The so-called “Big Six” agrichemical companies—Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, Bayer, and Pioneer (DuPont)—are sitting pretty.
Together, they control nearly 70 percent of the global pesticide market, and essentially the entire market for genetically modified seeds. Prices of the crops they focus on—corn, soy, cotton, etc.—are soaring, pushed up by severe drought in key growing regions. Higher crop prices typically translate to increased pesticide sales as farmers have more money to spend on agrichemicals and more incentive to maximize yield.
The companies operate globally—and have gained a stronghold in that emerging center of industrial agriculture, Brazil—but the biotech-friendly US is their profit center. They’ve got a big chunk of US agriculture pretty well sewn up—their GMO seeds dominate our corn, soy and cotton crops, which account for more than 53 percent of US farmland, and have won approval for GMO alfalfa (hay), which accounts for another 19 percent. The vast annual US corn crop—which accounts for 40 percent of the globe’s corn most years—is a particular bonanza, not just for GMO seeds but also a stunning amount of insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides.
But two things could mess up the Big 6 here in the US: 1) any delay in the regulatory process for a new generation of seeds engineered for resistance to multiple herbicides; and 2) any major move to require labeling of foods containing GMOs, a requirement already in play in many other countries—including the European Union, China, Japan, and South Korea—and one for which the US public has expressed overwhelming support. Unsurprisingly, the Big 6 are investing millions of their vast profits into forestalling both of those menaces.
Speedy deregulation of the new-generation herbicide-tolerant crops is important for a simple reason: Monsanto’s blockbuster Roundup Ready technology—featuring corn, soy, cotton, sugar beet, and alfalfa (hay) seeds engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide—is failing. Roundup-resistant superweeds are galloping out of control throughout big-farm country.
The industry’s only solution to the problem is to roll out seeds resistant to multiple herbicides at once, adding old, toxic ones like 2,4-D and dicamba to the Roundup mix. (Roundup itself, now the most widely used herbicide in the US by a wide margin, has long enjoyed a reputation as mostly harmless chemical, but that status has been quietly crumbling in scientific circles.)