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Monsanto and Syngenta Tighten Stranglehold on Global Food Supply

There is a corporate monster in the making: a conglomeration of two of the world’s largest biotech companies.

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

There is a corporate monster in the making. If allowed to emerge, it will gain near complete control of one of the most vital elements to human survival: our global food supply. This monster – a conglomeration of two corporate entities, Monsanto and Syngenta – must be stopped for the sake of the planet and future generations.

The companies that would make up this monster conglomeration both want complete control of our food. They envision a world completely inundated with their “patented” genetically modified seeds and saturated in their environmentally destructive chemicals. They seek to put all of their critics and those deemed “in the way” in prison or leave them financially ruined. They threaten to subvert the democratic process with their “bought” legislators, who are strategically placed inside virtually every facet of the governmental apparatus. And they do all of this while wrapped in the rhetoric of superheroes, sustainability and stewardship.

Fortunately, the behemoth merger is still in its gestational period: Its constituent entities, Monsanto and Syngenta, have yet to fully “consummate” the deal. But when the conglomeration does finally emerge, it will do so with a brand new identity.

And why wouldn’t Monsanto and Syngenta want to shed those tired, old skins? Both of their “brands” are mired in criminality, environmental devastation and the exposures of their mafia-style tactics (see Syngenta’s transgressions: here, here and here).

Now, before we can even begin to discuss what needs to be done to remedy this predicament that will soon be thrust upon us, we must first take a look at how we’ve been brought to this seeming impasse.

To do so, it’s helpful to look closer at the history of Monsanto, not because Syngenta is innocent of afflicting catastrophe upon the world, but because Monsanto is the greater party in this transaction, and it is Monsanto’s crimes and modus operandi that other biotech companies hope to emulate.

Monsanto Plays Dirty

On April 17, 2015, Monsanto’s CEO Hugh Grant met with Syngenta’s chairman of the board Michel Demaré and CEO Michael Mack to discuss Monsanto’s bid to merge with Syngenta – a transaction that would create an unprecedented agro-giant and should have the antitrust alarm bells screaming; this deal would constitute the combination of the first- and third-largest biotech companies in the world.

Syngenta’s response to Monsanto, in a letter dated April 30, laid out the company’s concerns regarding the proposed deal, which – not surprisingly – never ventured outside of the monetary realm. Demaré and Mack went on to state that the deal was “grossly inadequate” and that the regulatory process would lead to significant “value destruction” of their integrated crop strategy. They also fretted about the “reputational risk” that Monsanto poses to Syngenta’s bottom line.

Syngenta’s “concerns” appear to have only been a ploy to garner more for what they have to offer – as evidenced in the results of a survey conducted by Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd, which stated that Syngenta’s investors are “overwhelmingly in favor” of talking to Monsanto for an added 5 percent increase. Outside of the banal aspects of sales negotiations, Syngenta did manage to bring up two very important points of debate. The first is the glaring issue of antitrust laws and regulations that would threaten to shut the whole deal down. As mentioned above, this deal would constitute an unprecedented combination of the world’s number one and number three biotech companies.

The hijacking of the world’s food chain is on full display in Monsanto’s dogged determination to acquire Syngenta.

Secondly, was Syngenta’s concern about merging with a company of Monsanto’s reputation; given that both companies have practically identical legacies, it is slightly odd that this would concern Syngenta. I suspect that Syngenta’s uneasiness stems from the extreme public backlash that Monsanto has deservedly earned as of late. Looking from Syngenta’s standpoint, one would conclude that the company brought up very valid reasons for its initial apprehensiveness about the proposed merger. But it is Monsanto’s rebuttal – made in an attempt to allay Syngenta’s fears – that should strike fear into people all across the world.

With a level of hubris that one typically reserves for times when a desired outcome has privately been declared a forgone conclusion, Monsanto’s CEO, Hugh Grant, easily dismissed Syngenta’s antitrust concerns and reiterated his “high degree of confidence” for gaining all the necessary regulatory approvals. Grant also went on to offer the “highest reverse breakup fee that any company has agreed to.” Reverse breakup fees are fines levied on the acquiring company and paid to the target company should a deal be blocked by such pesky things as “regulations.” The $2 billion reverse breakup fee that Monsanto has offered amounts to roughly 25 percent of the company’s reported gross profits from 2014. On Monsanto’s part, this fee constitutes an “all-in” maneuver.

In the game of poker, when players go “all-in,” there are but two possibilities for that action: either they have a hand which they know will win, or they are bluffing and hope the other players don’t want to risk calling them on it. This is in stark contrast to how things are played in the corporate world, where a company is legally mandated to consistently make a profit for its investors and shareholders. The risk associated with an “all-in” approach would come with significant legal and financial ramifications for a company’s executives and future in general. With that in mind, there can be only one explanation for Monsanto’s “all-in” and that is – to steal a line from the credit card industry – because the company has been “pre-approved.”

Given the existence of reports like the 2013 corporate profiling of Monsanto, which shows the extent to which Monsanto has infiltrated regulatory, legislative and educational bodies – not to mention the incalculable amounts of money that it has showered onto Congress – why would the company have any worries? Everything is going precisely according to plan. And if sheer confidence in the ability to skirt regulations weren’t enough to convince Syngenta, Monsanto also wanted to show that it isn’t scared to flex its financial muscle and play dirty. Grant, in his rebuttal letter to Syngenta, also went on to imply just how much power and influence Monsanto has over the market by stating,

It is unfortunate that our initial approach to you was leaked to the press shortly before your rejection letter was received by us. The speculation and uncertainty have potentially negative effects on employees in both organizations, and on the value of the combination.

In addition to financial bullying, Monsanto has also openly talked to media sources about a possible hostile takeover, though the company claims this action to be “a ways out.” Monsanto’s actions reveal just how perverse the quest for absolute power and control can be. The hijacking of the world’s food chain is on full display in Monsanto’s dogged determination to acquire Syngenta. Along the way, the agricultural giant is running roughshod over any pretensions to democratic processes and quickly ushering us into the age of the “food führer.”

In the hopes of obscuring past infractions and inciting a full-blown case of social amnesia, Monsanto has also proposed to rename the combined company – in addressing Syngenta’s final concern – with Grant expressing his desire to “reinvent Monsanto one more time.” Now, I must admit that this proffered rebrand was the issue that originally piqued my interest and drew my ire. How dare this rightly sullied organization attempt to deceive future generations of consumers and farmers by simply changing its mask and hoping that everyone will just forget who it was? But I have since come to share the same view as Joel Salatin, a well-known organic farmer and author, when he expressed via email, “I guess I’m of the opinion that the folks who hate Monsanto will all know about the change and hate the new entity. When something is this big and in the public eye, the name doesn’t mean that much.” He’s absolutely right. The great affront at play is clearly the control over government that Monsanto has and the global food monopoly it wishes to create.

So, here we are standing at the precipice of the ultimate battle for our food sovereignty and one naturally has to ask: “What can we do to stop this?” First, we must look at what has already been done.

The Struggle for Food Sovereignty

The groups comprising the anti-Monsanto movement have primarily employed three different tactics in their struggles against the food giant. The first has been the impassioned call for their members, along with the general public, to “vote with your purchases“; the second has been to move into the political arena in the hopes of stopping Monsanto electorally and legislatively; and lastly, there has been the staging of protests, which have commonly come in the form of marches. These are three rather distinct tactics, yet common to all is the ideological pathology of deluded deferential dissent – the unflinching deference to and courteous, peaceable appeals for the very system and institutions to solve those problems, which are knowingly outgrowths thereof. The anti-Monsanto movement’s adherence to these three tactics, in conjunction with the full expression of the pathology contained within them, has subsequently led to another commonality: utter ineffectiveness in halting the spread of Monsanto’s products and power. Since 2007, the year the first opposition group arose, Monsanto’s net sales and gross profit have both more than doubled, and the company’s march toward complete domination of the world’s food supply – by controlling its seeds – has not been impeded in any semantical sense of the word.

My intention in pointing out this glaring failure of the anti-Monsanto movement to effect any change is meant to encourage an honest, objective review of the interplay between these movements’ tactics and results.

The conglomerate that Monsanto wishes to create wants to snatch the building blocks of our food supply away from us.

The organizations that stand in defiance to Monsanto have – to their credit – reached millions with their message and sparked people to start engaging the structures of corporate power within our society, but they are simply not taking their actions far enough, not if they want to see their ultimate goals come to fruition. To stay planted within the political realm, where Monsanto holds all the levers, is to remain impotent. What is needed is the immediate revival of those directly confrontational tactics that were to become the hallmark of the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These activist groups should be using their vast influence to encourage and stand in solidarity with actions such as those taken by activists in Oregon when they surreptitiously burned 40 tons of Syngenta’s genetically modified sugar beets to the ground, or in France where fields were yanked from the earth under the cover of night.

The time for civility is over!

While people are marching around chanting their cleverly worded slogans or pussyfooting in the legislative halls, Monsanto is blatantly consolidating its grasp on the world’s food supply. World-renowned environmental activist and anti-globalization author Dr. Vandana Shiva once forebodingly declared:

If they control seed, they control food. They know it and it’s strategic. It’s more powerful than bombs; it’s more powerful than guns. This is the best way to control the populations of the world.

Monsanto’s actions clearly indicate that they’ve taken Shiva’s prescient words to heart and twisted them into a new mission statement of insidious design.

The conglomerate that Monsanto wishes to create wants to snatch the building blocks of our food supply away from us. To return the favor in kind, we should start dismantling the building blocks of the very infrastructure that has allowed the company to do so.

If we cannot muster the courage to fight the monstrosity that will soon descend upon us by utilizing the full spectrum of actions that are desperately needed to eradicate it, we will leave a legacy of shame for future generations.

Besides, food fights can be fun! Right?

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