Monsanto, infamous promoter of GMOs, manufacturer of Agent Orange and DDT, may soon become part of Bayer, the German chemical giant which commercialized heroin in the early 20th century, and more recently was accused of selling medicine that carried a high risk of transmitting AIDS to hemophiliacs in Asia and Latin America while selling a safer alternative in other countries.
The two companies have a long track record of disregarding the public good in their pursuit of profit. Monsanto is currently facing lawsuits filed by hundreds of individuals who claim they developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from using Roundup, the company’s ubiquitous brand of glyphosate weedkiller. The suits allege that the company failed to warn of Roundup’s cancer-causing potential.
However, thousands of pages of documents unsealed during the lawsuit tell a different story. They detail Monsanto’s coordinated attempts to manipulate the science on Roundup’s safety, from ghostwriting papers and paying “independent” scientists to sign their names as authors, to working with top officials at the Environmental Protection Agency overseeing Roundup’s cancer assessment.
Bayer is one of the largest producers of neonicotinoid chemicals, pesticidew that scientists have linked to mass die-offs of honey bees. To preserve profits Bayer has waged a public information campaign to obfuscate the link between its profitable pesticides and bee survival, employing tobacco industry tactics to keep the chemicals legal in the U.S. even as the EU considered a ban.
This proposed deal is the third in a wave of agricultural mega-mergers following in the footsteps of those between Dow and Dupont and Sygenta and ChemChina. The transformed industry will be one where massive corporations have even larger pools of money to pump into lobbying efforts to block regulations that might address the environmental, health and economic impacts of their chemical-intensive model of agriculture. Bringing together major biotechnology companies will limit competition for farmers looking to buy inputs like seeds and chemicals, hurting their already dwindling bottom lines and sending price reverberations downstream to consumers at the register.
In the market for vegetables, the effects may be even worse. Monsanto and Bayer both already control substantial portions of the vegetable market. Monsanto has engaged in the rapid acquisition of smaller vegetable companies over the past 20 years, and as a result, is the largest vegetable seed seller in the United States. Bayer, meanwhile, has a significant vegetable seed line operated through its subsidiary Nunhems, one of Monsanto’s vegetable seed business’ few competitors. Since vegetable seed developers often specialize, the seeds for specific vegetables may only be produced by two or three companies. A Food & Water Watch analysis of tomato seeds found that a combined Bayer-Monsanto would control the majority of tomato seeds sold for processing tomatoes. When farmers lack alternatives, consumers also lose because farmers are forced to charge more and offer less variety.
As corporations approach levels of concentration not seen since the Gilded Age, there’s a rising consensus that something needs to be done about antitrust violations. Now is the time to tell the Department of Justice to stop Bayer and Monsanto from becoming even more powerful than they already are.
Oakley Shelton-Thomas is a Research Intern at Food & Water Watch from Seattle. He recently completed a degree in Geography at the George Washington University.