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Food & Hunger

What a Monsanto merger with Bayer could mean for global food security

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The agrochemical and biotechnology company Monsanto has been courted by the chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer for some time now. 

They're taking part in a favorite corporate dance: merging to consolidate control over a market. 

Yesterday, Monsanto scoffed at Bayer's $62 billion bid, claiming that it was "financially inadequate," but this won't be the end of the matter. After all, Monsanto probably wants to abandon its reviled name

All around the world, mergers are happening at a record pace and markets are coming under the control of ever-more dominant players. 

According to ValueWalk, 2015 was the biggest financial year for mergers and acquisitions in the US and Asia of all time. The US tallied $4.28 trillion in mergers over the course of the year. 

Mergers are not intrinsically bad, but they risk distorting a particular market by crushing competition, limiting research and development and allowing harmful practices to continue. When companies swell to immense proporations, they can bargain exclusionary deals with customers, lobby for favorable political conditions, divert resources away from progressive research and development to executive pay. 

In the agricultural industry, major mergers have already taken place this year. 

Dow and DuPont merged at the end of 2015 to form a $130 billion powerhouse, DowDuPont, and this past February ChemChina scooped up Sygenta for $43 billion. Bayer and Monsanto will probably hammer out a deal in the coming weeks or months. 

Taken together, these deals are far more signifcant--and troubling--than similar consolidation in other markets. 

In the airline industry, where the big 4 airlines control nearly the entire market, consumers have to deal with inflated prices. 

In the agricultural industry, however, consumers could have to deal with compromised food supplies and the systematic disenfranchisement of small farmers around the world. 

As the Guardian notes, consolidation in the food industry will mean heavier lobbying on local and national governments. This could erode opportunities and the independence of small farmers--who provide an estimated 70% of the world's food--and lead to an expansion of the large-scale, industrial, chemical-dependent methods preferred by corporate players. 

If small farmers are pushed out or yoked to multinational corporations through new regulations, then one of the most fundamental necessities of life--food--will be concentrated in the hands of global giants interested in turning a profit. 

I think everyone can agree that fundamental human rights should not be controlled by entities driven by profit. When profit becomes the dominant consideration in the food industry, other motivating factors like improving nutrient intake are shirked.

Industrial agriculture tends to consist of monoculture farming and the heavy use of chemicals. Both of these practices limit and compromise the quality of food and degrade the environment, diminishing ecoystems and biodiversity.   

Even though these practices are dangerous to human health and the environment, they are more lucrative in the short-term. Plus, Monsanto and Bayer have an incentive to increase the global use of agricultural chemicals, since they are the biggest producers in this industry. 

Shareholders for Monsanto and Bayer would make a lot of money from a merger. 

But should the profit of a few ever be allowed to endanger the welfare of the many?