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Seeds represent the primary source of life on Earth. They are the first link in the food chain. According to environmental activist Vandana Shiva, seeds are freedom. As of a few days ago, the European Commissioner for Competition has given the green light to the merger between Dow Chemical, the second biggest seed supplier in the world, and Du Pont, the fifth. Though some restrictions, such as the sale of part of Du Pont’s pesticide business, have been imposed on the merger in order to respect anti-trust regulations, this clearly is a further step towards the monopolisation of the seeds’ market.
The seeds’ market is currently in the hands of a small number of giant multinational corporations, which are collecting patents on their genetically modified seeds. The monopolisation of seeds represents a threat not only to the environment but also to the global society.
Environmentally speaking, these large agrochemical companies are selling their genetically modified seeds with the promise of larger yields and better resistance to herbicides. The side effects of higher productivity levels, however, outweigh their benefits. Genetically modified seeds not only destroy the soil, are not only largely dependent on fossil fuel products (such as fertilisers), but the attractiveness of the promised higher yields also leads to the creation of monocultures. Monocultures, such as that of soy in the Amazon or Quinoa in Bolivia, may be economically rewarding, but it leads to a loss of biodiversity, which in turn represents a cultural loss. Furthermore, herbicide-tolerant seeds, intended to control pests and weeds, have instead led to the creation of stronger pests and weeds which require stronger pesticides and herbicides for eradication. In other words, they have proved to be counter-productive.
Socially and economically speaking, the monopolisation of seeds has dramatic consequences. Because seeds are protected by patents, their prices are higher. This causes poorer farmers, allured by the promises of higher yields, to contract debts in order to afford them. Unfortunately, farmers fall into a dependency cycle: they contract debts to pay for the patented seeds, they are forced to keep buying such seeds by contract, they inevitably need to pay for the patented pesticides to eradicate ‘super-weeds’ and ‘super-pests’ created by the seeds’ herbicide tolerance and are thus unable to repay their debts.
This goes to show that the monopolisation of the seeds’ market, and the consequential lack of sovereignty and freedom such market, can cause not only environmental problems but also social issues. Naturally, those who suffer the most from the loss of biodiversity, from the vicious cycle of dependency mentioned above and, possibly, from hunger, are not in the interest of the multinational corporate behemoths.