domingo, agosto 10, 2008

Monsanto's Vultures are Closing In on the Food Crisis

by Annie Shattuck

The vultures of corporate America are closing in on the carcass of cheap food. With corn selling at $5.86 a bushel (up from just $2.00 in 2005, and $4.28 just six months ago), the food price crisis has been somewhat of a windfall for farmers. But the briefly glimmering hope for rural communities is about to go out.

Last week Monsanto announced it would increase the price of its corn seed by $100 a bag, or about 35%. $100 a bag! So if you are a farmer with 1,000 acres in corn, Monsanto will be demanding an extra forty grand this year.

The timing on Monsanto's unilateral price hike is especially heinous. With the world thrust into a profound food crisis, governments shaken, and children hungry, Monsanto is pushing the envelope on one of the world's most important grains. This in combination with the outrageous inflation in the price of fertilizer, (over 400% in the past two years, due to the increase in the price of natural gas, from which fertilizers are made) means farmers are once again barely braking even.

Agriculture is a particularly risky business. Vagaries of weather, markets, pests and floods make it impossible to guarantee that Jill Farmer's tomato or corn crop will actually make it to market this year, much less at a certain price. That is why large corporations generally deal in inputs, like seed and fertilizer, or in post-harvest processing and exporting. Farmers take the risks, while big business hides safely one step away from actual production. Large companies like Monsanto and Dupont have made millions selling seed and inputs, while Cargill and ADM, large food processors make a $40 billion a year business on the back end. Monsanto, through a rapid process of acquisition and attrition has swallowed up all but the largest of its competitors, controlling 20% of the global seed market and a near monopoly of its key crops.

Why is this so worrisome? At the UN Food Summit in Rome on June 5th of this year, Monsanto announced that the company would be here to save us from the food crisis, injecting millions of dollars in to public research on wheat and rice, and pledging to double yields on soy and cotton over the next 20 years. CNBC analysts are even saying “there is no hope” for the food crisis without Monsanto's wares. But it is precisely Monsanto's wares that are so worrisome.

Monsanto is using the food crisis to stack our food system on an increasingly genetically narrow and physiologically fragile set of genes. Remember the Irish potato famine? Genetic diversity keeps our food system resistant to disease. Planting all one variety is dangerous, like marrying your cousin: something is bound to go wrong. Not only is Monsanto leeching the first real profit in years from small farmers, but planting our food system in ever-more shaky ground. The irony of course, is that in establishing themselves as the white knights of the global food crisis, Monsanto puts us at risk of an even deeper hunger.

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