Seed companies continue to promote the growth of hybrid and GM crop development by claiming hybrid vigor and resistance to pests and herbicides will increase the world food supply. So far however, seed technology developments have only increased the power and profit of seed companies.
Commercialization of the seed
Multinational companies took profitable advantage of the progression in our understanding of the seed and began surveying small farmers’ crops, negotiating rights to lease and manage them. These companies harvested, cleaned, and packaged seeds and then resold the seeds to farmers. By the 1960’s, a transfer of seeds being produced by multinational corporations instead of local farmers and businesses had occurred; a near complete commercialization of the seed.
Chemical and technological dependence
As companies develop and release hybrid varieties, farmers are forced to buy seed every year from the seed companies due to the seed’s inability to procreate. Hybrids are designed to grow only within narrow tolerances for petrochemical products, in which the same seed companies also have financial interest.
Companies pushed the advance of biotechnological applications to seeds with the promise to decrease pesticide use by increasing plant resistance to pests and diseases. Instead, technological advances have focused on tolerance to pesticides and chemicals produced by the very same companies that sell these products. By controlling seeds, corporations link their consumers to their agricultural chemicals thus creating a complete dependence on the seed companies.
Patents and monopolization of the seed industry
In 1970 the Plant Variety Patent Act (PVPA) was passed granting certificates of protection to hybrid crop varieties. While this was done under the ideal of encouraging global trade and scientific innovation, patents instead allowed seeds to be owned and for agriculture to be privatized. It is now illegal to save, exchange, or replant any seeds obtained from seed companies. In order to purchase seed, farmers are required to sign technology agreements not to save the seeds.
Patents encourage monopolistic pricing and cut out small farmers. The seeds are expensive to purchase, the chemicals the seeds need in order to grow are expensive, the resulting crops require high tech equipment to tend and harvest, all which favors large farm corporations and encourages the centralization of agriculture into fewer and fewer hands.
Seed companies now place genetic identifiers within plant cellular structures, signatures designed to prevent unauthorized use of their technology. Monsanto, a large multinational agricultural company, uses totalitarian methods to police fields and search for traces of their technology in crops.
There have been reports that companies like Monsanto intentionally contaminate non-hybrid crops with their genetic markers so they can claim their technology was used without their permission. This also raises the issue of genetic drift. As birds and insects naturally carry pollen from one crop to another with no concern over what is hybrid and what is not, the few heirloom crops remaining are polluted. This gives multinationals the ability to accuse farmers of stealing patented technology. Agribusiness and seed companies such as Monsanto have filed hundreds of lawsuits against farmers for unauthorized use of their seed technology, causing countless small farm bankruptcies.
By 1994 a mere 7% of farmers controlled 50% of US agricultural production, 15 agribusiness corporations provided 60% of farm supplies, 60 companies performed 70% of all food processing, 3 cereal companies provided 80% of prepared breakfast cereal, and 6 companies handled 95% of wheat and corn production.
Monsanto bought up 50 seed companies between 1995 and 2005. Now fewer than 12 companies own most of the patented seeds in the world. Farmers are finding themselves in increasing debt as they are forced to buy seeds every year from seed companies. More and more farmers are going out of business and moving to the urban areas. There is a growing inability to be self-sufficient and the movement to stop growing hybrid and GM crops is growing.