Recently a subscriber, John Lord, sent me an article that details an alarming trend regarding seeds. Seeds are critical for life since they are one of the primary foundations of our food supply chain. In one way or another, all of the food we eat today originates from seeds along with the animals we eat that also rely on seeds for their food. But did you know that several major corporations are cornering the market on this commodity as they are consolidating their control of the global seed supply, resulting in what we call a seed monopoly? This is causing a great deal of concern around the world and in this article, we’ll discuss the profound impact and implications of this monopoly, how these companies are pulling this off, and what you can do to prepare.
Who Currently Controls the Seed Market
Before we dive into the impacts of a seed monopoly, let’s first look at who currently controls the global seed market today.
There are several seed companies spread throughout the world. However, most of these seed companies fall under the umbrella of large corporations. Philip H. Howard, an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Sustainability at the Michigan State University and a member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, came out with a seed consolidation chart in late 2018, showing that the current global seed supply is controlled by 4 big corporations. The 4 companies are Bayer AG, BASF SE (both are German companies), Corteva Agriscience (an American company), and Chem-China (a Chinese company). Monsanto, which has been the de facto face of GMO seeds and a bit of a household name was acquired in 2018 by Bayer.
These 4 companies control about 60% of the world’s proprietary seed sales. This is a big change from 1996 when the top 10 companies controlled only 16.7% of the global seed market. But through mergers and consolidations, the end result has been that the majority of the global seed supply has ended up in the hands of these 4 companies.
Why is this problematic?
Anytime a monopoly occurs, problems ensue. It gives the controlling company or companies the ability to dictate at what price they’ll sell their product, there’s no need for innovation, and they don’t have to worry about producing quality products. These same issues also apply to seeds.
As competition dwindles due to mergers and acquisitions, there is less motivation for companies to innovate. Without competition, the controlling companies also have the freedom to set the price they want, making seeds more expensive for farmers and not providing them with many choices. A seed monopoly also gives controlling companies the power to restrict how their seeds are used and exchanged.
How companies are cornering the seed market
In the 1980s there were thousands of different seed companies, which provided farmers and consumers a wide range of choices and diversity in buying seeds. But as corporations acquired and began to buy out other smaller companies, a large portion of control of the seed market has been transferred to the 4 corporations discussed earlier. What problems does this create?
Control in setting prices – One of the ways seed companies are cornering the market is through controlling how prices for seeds are set. As a handful of companies gain control over the global seed market, competition is eliminated and the remaining companies get to dictate how seeds will be priced.
It is much easier for firms to cooperate and have a coordinated effect when it comes to pricing if there are only a few of them since it’s easier to monitor and check if everyone is following the agreement. The Organization for Economic Co-operation Development came out with a report which showed prices of conventional seeds have increased by 54% between 2001 and 2011, the period where big consolidations started to emerge. The same period also saw a 74% increase in the prices of glyphosate-tolerant corn seeds. Glyphosate is one of the primary ingredients of Roundup and other pesticides which are used on crops to kill insects and is a known carcinogen. The World Health Organization recently came out with a damning report pointing out how the use of this chemical in our food supply chain is directly tied to the increase in cancer around the world.
Restrictions on how seeds are used – Another way that seed companies are cornering the market is through the restrictions in their patents controlling how their seeds can be used or exchanged.
In 2013, Monsanto (before they were acquired by Bayer) was under intense scrutiny after it was revealed that they were suing small farmers because of how they were using their seeds. The company sued farmers who were reusing the seeds produced by their crops. Monsanto said that those seeds are under patent and farmers can’t replant them. The company stated in their lawsuits that they’re protecting their business interests and their patents are helping them do that.
Influencing laws and regulations – As seed companies expand control over the seed market, they are also increasing their influence when it comes to implementing laws and regulations.
It’s not unusual for corporations to influence the government and lobby for certain laws and regulations as this has been going on for centuries. But corporations’ influence has increased since 2010 when they were allowed to donate unlimited amounts of money to Super PACs, which in turn use the money to advocate or lobby for a political candidate inline with their motives or against a rival who was willing to challenge them.
1980 was a pivotal year for seed companies since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an individual who was looking to patent genetically engineered bacterium, which can break down crude oil. This ruling allowed seed companies like Monsanto who create GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, seeds to patent their work and use it to regulate how their product is used.
Seed companies also used intellectual property rights to influence regulations that would only benefit them, like the updates of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants in 1991. This convention provided intellectual property rights to breeders and removed certain privileges that farmers enjoyed, specifically their ability to re-use their seeds for planting crops. The problem with this regulation today is that these seed companies now control 60% of the market, which means the majority of seeds that can be bought come from them.
What are the impacts of a Seed Monopoly?
Let’s look at how this monopoly impacts you personally.
How it impacts the economy – As mentioned earlier, monopolies are typically looked at negatively from a consumer’s point of view since it eliminates competition, thus giving one company or a small group of companies control of prices, variety, and quality of products and services. But a monopoly can also impact the economy negatively.
One of the aspects that will be inevitably be impacted is innovation since there won’t be any more motivation or reason for companies to invest in research and development to improve their technology, products or services. Competition keeps corporations on their toes, forcing them to spend more on research and development to offer their consumers a better product over their competitors.
This is actually happening in the seed market as the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted in a report that the companies who came out of the consolidation are sponsoring less research and development relative to the size of their market share. This means that the remaining seed companies are no longer investing as much time and money on research since there’s no need for them to gain new technology to improve their products.
How it impacts the consumers – Farmers are the worst hit in a seed monopoly since they are the direct consumer of the seeds that these companies are producing and selling to.
A seed monopoly means seed companies get to control the price of the seed they are selling in the market. And as I mentioned earlier, the prices of seeds have increased significantly since 2000. But it isn’t just the high price of seeds that are impacting farmers, it’s also the fact that they are being required to purchase new seeds when they plant a new batch of crops. The intellectual property rights protection that seed companies placed on their seeds doesn’t allow farmers to reuse any seeds that they get from their harvest which would allow them to save money when planting new crops.
A seed monopoly also means there are fewer choices for farmers. As mentioned earlier, 60% of the seeds found in the market come from only 4 large corporations. This means that a majority of the seeds that farmers can buy are GMO seeds, which are the seeds protected with patents. Finding seeds that do not possess a patent becomes a problem since these companies don’t offer these types of seeds.
How it impacts the food supply and environment – Another negative impact of a seed monopoly is how it affects the food supply. I mentioned earlier how fewer seed companies mean fewer seed varieties available to the consumer. The issue with this is that it weakens our society’s food security.
The world’s food supply now only relies on 5 animal species and 12 plants. Out of the 12 plants, 60% of the plant calories and proteins that people consume comes from rice, wheat, and corn.
Diversity is important when it comes to seeds since each variety of seed will have its own distinct traits and characteristics. This is important, especially when it comes to combating the effects of climate change. There are certain varieties of seeds that are more resistant to cold climates while there are others that are more resistant to hot climates. Having diversity in seed varieties will ensure that the effects of climate change and environmental conditions won’t have a major impact on our food supply.
The introduction of hybrid seeds, which are varieties of seeds that are created by crossing two unique parent plants to produce an offspring that will contain both the traits of the parents, also affects the food supply. The problem with these seeds is that if farmers reuse the seeds coming from a hybrid plant, the resulting crop will either be one of the parent plants or the seed is sterile. This means that farmers will need to purchase more seeds to plant another batch of crops instead of just reusing the seed to maintain their costs. As farming becomes more costly, farmers are forced to produce less or increase their prices, which affects the food supply.
Another problem is that the seeds that these companies are selling are not adaptable to all climates and environments. Take for example the case in India where Monsanto introduced genetically engineered seeds that are said to help Indian farmers produce more yields per year. However, the results were the opposite since many of the GMO seeds couldn’t adapt to the environment conditions of the country. Moreover, the GMO seeds require costly, unhealthy, and unfriendly to the environment fertilizers and pesticides to help them even grow properly, a stark contrast to natural seeds already in India. Instead of helping farmers produce more yield, it’s doing the opposite, making farmers produce less yields from their crops, and forcing them to introduce contaminants into their environment to properly use these seeds.
Using heirloom seeds and why it is better
The seed monopoly is a real thing and it is happening in our world today as seed companies continue to merge and consolidate into a few large corporations resulting in them taking control of the seed market and our food supply as well.
So in light of all this information, what’s the type of seed that you need to include for your cache of survival seeds?
Earlier, we discussed what GMO seeds are and what hybrid seeds are. Both types of seeds are man-made. But there are also hybrid seeds that are naturally made. The third, and probably the best type of seed that you can use for your survival are heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are seeds that came from open pollinated plants, which means they are naturally made. But the beauty of this type of seed is that it inherits the traits and characteristics of its parent plant.
This is huge since it will allow you to replant the seeds it produces and expect a similar crop to come out from it. For example, an heirloom seed you bought yielded a big and tasty tomato, you can expect that replanting its seed will result in a similar big and tasty tomato. This is something that you cannot do with hybrid or GMO seeds.
The fact that you can also reuse the seeds for planting and expect a similar crop will also greatly help in preparing for your survival. If you use GMO or hybrid seeds, each year you plant seeds you’d need to get seeds from the corporations. But with an heirloom seed, you don’t need to worry about purchasing new seeds. You just need to replant the seed that came from the crop you harvested and you’ll get another batch of produce from it.
Hopefully this article gave you insight into an issue that most are not even aware is happening. Seeds are the foundation of our food chain and once corporations lock these down completely, which is sure to happen in the coming years, we’ll be at their mercy. Even more importantly as preppers, having seeds we can plant, and harvest for future use is even more important when looking at a long term grid-down scenario. Again, when shopping seeds at your local store or online, always go with heirloom seeds for the reasons we outlined.
If you have additional information, tips, or suggestions, please put them in the comment section below. Don’t forget to click the like button and share this on social media if you enjoyed the blog.