Monday, January 24, 2005

More bad seeds

Bitter Greens Journal must seem so far like Monsanto Watch. That will change; I want this diary to focus at least as much on local issues and food-politics theory as it does on the political economy of the global food industry. But there's much to say about that the biotech behemoth, and little time to write. And I sense a complacency re: biotech among some in the sustainable-ag movement, who seem to think it will just go away because of popular protest. All the evidence I see points the other direction.

The latest on Monsanto is that it just today bought California-based Seminis, which the Financial Times calls the "world’s largest developer of fruit and vegetable seeds," for $1.4 billion (including assumed debt). Here's the Reuters version of the deal, widely distributed in the US press. the article has some interesting stuff in it: e.g., "Monsanto already controls an estimated 14 percent of the U.S. corn seed market and through licensing arrangements provides germplasm and technology traits that extend its influence into about one-third of the U.S. market."

The article dutifully reports the company's official rationale for the deal: That Monsanto bought Seminis to "capitalize on the trend toward healthier eating," and that it will continue to run its new charge as a conventional, non-GMO seed company in "the near- to mid-term." The company's CEO, Hugh Grant, added, however, that "In the long term, there may be an opportunity in biotechnology."

Isn't it a bit ominous that Monsanto just snatched up the world's biggest seed company, and is openly considering genetically manipulating its products?

The UK-based Financial Times adds a telling detail in its piece on the deal: "Seminis derives 40 per cent of its business from Europe, the Middle East and Africa." Those are just the places that Monsanto has been having trouble marketing its GMO seeds.

Monsanto shares plunged 7 percent on the news. Part of that is normal activity when a company announces a big buy; part of it reflects Wall Street concern that Monsanto overpaid for Seminis, according to the FT.

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