Originally published: The Guardian
The EU has approved a $130bn mega-merger between Dow and DuPont, heralding a new round of agribusiness takeovers that environmentalists fear will endanger the future of sustainable food production.
Brussels is widely expected to clear another hookup between Syngenta and ChemChina in the next two weeks, with notification of a marriage between Monsanto and Bayer expected later in the year.
As a condition for Monday’s deal, DuPont will have to sell off large parts of its global pesticides business, including almost all of its global research and development group.
But the US agrichem giant is the second biggest global seed supplier after Monsanto – Dow is the fifth – and green groups fear that just three mega-corporations could soon be left exercising “a toxic grip” over the world’s food and countryside.
Adrian Bebb, a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, said: “This merger will mean a lack of choice for farmers and a lack of diversity in our fields. We rapidly need to diversify our farming to adapt to a changing climate, and having less seeds controlled by fewer corporation raises serious questions about our ability to feed future generations.”
A letter sent to the commission by an alliance of 200 environmental groups on Monday says that about 60% of commercial seed supplies will be centralised in the hands of just three multinationals if the mergers are all approved.
The commission though believes that the line it has laid down by enforcing pesticides divestment will help to prevent higher prices or restrictions to market choice, while safeguarding innovation and pesticide safety.
Speaking in Brussels on Monday, the EU competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said: “This is literally a question about our daily bread and the ability for farmers to choose different seeds and different pesticides, in order to secure their crops. It is the heart of human life, so we take it very seriously.”
Regulators in the US and China will still have to approve the Dow-DuPont deal, but Monday’s EU decision is being seen by some analysts as a marker for future deals.
Patrick Worms, a senior science policy adviser at the world agroforestry centre, cautioned that sustainable agriculture depended on a plurality of seed sources, farming methods and competing suppliers.
“Corporate behemoths can’t deliver that,” he said. “They are smothered by processes, bureaucracies, and internal politics. And they know it, too. That’s why they want to capture as much of the market as they can.”