How Monsanto owns and manipulates the world's food supply

Steve Silberman sends us "A major AP expose of how Monsanto uses secret licensing agreements for its genetically manipulated crops to squeeze smaller seed companies, lock out competition, and keep food prices high.".
Monsanto's methods are spelled out in a series of confidential commercial licensing agreements obtained by the AP. The contracts, as long as 30 pages, include basic terms for the selling of engineered crops resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, along with shorter supplementary agreements that address new Monsanto traits or other contract amendments...

For example, one contract provision bans independent companies from breeding plants that contain both Monsanto's genes and the genes of any of its competitors, unless Monsanto gives prior written permission -- giving Monsanto the ability to effectively lock out competitors from inserting their patented traits into the vast share of U.S. crops that already contain Monsanto's genes...

"We now believe that Monsanto has control over as much as 90 percent of (seed genetics). This level of control is almost unbelievable," said Neil Harl, agricultural economist at Iowa State University who has studied the seed industry for decades. "The upshot of that is that it's tightening Monsanto's control, and makes it possible for them to increase their prices long term. And we've seen this happening the last five years, and the end is not in sight."

AP INVESTIGATION: Monsanto seed biz role revealed (Thanks, Steve!)

(Image: Monsanto == Satan, a Creative Commons Attribution photo from illustir's photostream)


  1. Michael Pollan has been arguing for years that this type of corporate food control would eventually come around to bite back at them. I genuinely hope companies like Monsanto, Smithfield Foods, and ConAgra get the point sooner than later. They’ve destroyed the American Farmer and in less than 30 years have managed to convince Americans that planting your own corn is a crime if it happens to pollinate with one of their genes floating around in the air. In addition, they’re so entrenched in Washington that to root them out will likely be as easy as rooting big oil out of Washington.

  2. For more about this kind of thing, watch Food Inc. While we’re (rightfully) worried about copyright law and such, Monsanto is quietly advancing their control over the food supply. They’ve been very successful in keeping farmers silent so opposition doesn’t build.

  3. The idea of patents on genes that float around as pollen is frankly absurd. It’s like the RIAA made viruses that put mp3s on your computer, then sued you for copyright infringement.

    Anyone sued for patent infringement for cross-pollenization should sue Monsanto for assault and for criminal trespass. You shouldn’t need to protect your crops from patented pollen blowing onto your fields; Monsanto, if they want to keep their superspecial plants’ genes a secret, should have to protect their own pollen.

  4. “. . . and the end is not in sight.”

    Oh, the end is in sight alright, just not the end he meant, but a much bigger “end.”

  5. Agree with #2 Keppoch. Food Inc. is a marvelous movie, very even-handed and certainly not preachy. Well-worth watching for someone who wants to become (or already is) informed. (I say this as a meat-eater, too.)

  6. We’re working in Afghanistan where there has been continuous agricultural settlement and seed gathering since at least Alexander the Great when he settled there for four years in Bamiyan Valley, before sacking India. There are 1,000’s possibly 10,000 grain seed varietals, like ‘Goat’s Tooth’ wheat, twice as big as American white. Our much vaunted ‘agricultural aid programs’ which Ambassador Eikenberry is testifying about, without giving any details, are substituting patented Western wheat varieties, stealing the Afhgan wheat stock for patenting, and conditioning aid agreements to Karzai that farmer’s may not save their seed, breaking a cultural tradition nearly two thousand years old, and endenturing Afghan farmers to Western seed companies, Western fertilizer companies and Western herbicide companies you can bet Monsanto has moved tanker cars of Roundup into position. This same strategy has caused 10,000’s of indigent Indian farmers to commit suicide as the Western companies force them into indentured slavery, by drinking pesticide. Jebeezus!

  7. Hw cm Cry s smrt ngh t s th thrt tht Mnsnt pss t hmnty, bt h dsn’t rls tht th clmt chng stmrllng f th scnc cmmnty dsn’t vn rgstr n hs rdr?

    H thnks tht s wcky cnsprcy thry. thnk h nly blvs wht h wnts t blv.

  8. and while we’re at it nomad, please remind me how near monopolies fit in the idea of capitalism and the American dream?

  9. This is risky. Species with limited gene pools don’t survive, and we all depend on crop plants. Maybe less corn for us corvids, hmmm.

  10. Meanwhile Penn & Teller do shows on GM crops that mock people’s food safety fears, and they never once raise the issue of patents.

  11. All this B.S. stems from Diamond v. Chakrabarty (1980). It will take Congress to override that and since Monsanto is a huge funder, I doubt it will happen any time soon. My advice? Get a plot and start growing yer own.

    1. According to Wolfram Alpha, the answer to your question is: Monsanto.

      Alternative answers are, “us” “the greys” and “the neocons”

  12. DRM: Now on your crops!

    What makes me really sad is that given the fierce opposition to GMO, the amount of money needed to make new crops and sell them, and the amount of red tape are so big that only jerks like Monsanto are able to get through it. The crops of many small companies and research labs will never see the light, they do not have the money and connections, and those are precisely the kind of crops that would be more focused on traits beneficial for us rather than for stockholders.

  13. yea, agreed. Nobody likes a company that has it all. However, this is the same country that nurtured Microsoft and Wal-Mart. It’s capitalism. It’s nobody’s fault but our own. If you don’t like it you know how to get to Canada.

    Also, there is no reason someone cannot have the rights to a gene. Genes can be synthesized by any idiot with a home brew lab these days. Your idea. Your patent.

  14. There’s a thing called “Monopoly”. It’s been taken to mean 100% market share, but it’s actually “Enough of a market to force prices without facing the rules of supply and demand” and in the past has been as low as 17%.

    Simply put, it should be illegal for them to be this big.

  15. Soylent Green, Now with more people! -“Mansanto, cutting out the middleman in the peasant eating the king sequence since 2009.”

  16. I just can’t help noticing that when reading that AP article, I can substitute “Microsoft” and “Windows” for “Monsanto” and “their genes” without any real loss of meaning. They’re doing the same shit MS did to blow away their competitors in the eighties and early nineties, and in the process irrevocably distorting a fundamentally more important ecosystem than merely “the computer industry.”

  17. These companies worry me more than Al Qaeda. On one side is a massive, tightly organized corporation that has much of our government in its pocket and is on track to control our agriculture. On the other side is a handful of desperate and mostly poor tribesman on the other side of the world.

  18. Monsanto business plan:

    1. Tell everyone to buy their crops; when they don’t:

    2. Cropdust Roundup over a whole region/country

    3. Profit!

    Many may recognise this as a standard protection racket, which it is, as are a lot of businesses.

    GM crops are probably neither harmful nor helpful. I hate them for different reasons than most — they have destroyed the fruits I remember. They now call nectarines ‘peaches’ and there’s something wonky about modern pears and kiwis too. I loved cherry tomatoes, but plum tomatoes are more like bitter grapes.

    At the same time, my concern is for those most in need of food — for them, delicate sensibilities such as mine are irrelevant. Any attempt by corporate interests to minimise, subvert, or tax their food is unacceptable. Life trumps patents, pure and simple.

  19. I just heard a presentation from someone who works for USC (the Unitarian Service Committee) in Tibet, and they are fighting off the corporations on behalf of the subsistence farmers there. The farmers barely grow enough to feed themselves, and yet the corporations want them to buy new seed every year. USC is helping them select robust seeds and creating village seed banks to let the farmers be totally self sufficient, no pesticides or corporations needed.

  20. Could someone please remind me why we allow these corporations to exist?

    You don’t just allow them to exist, you actively fund them with your tax money, under the guise of “agricultural subsidies for working farmers”, “alternative fuels”, and a bunch of other vaguely progressive sounding policies designed to funnel your tax money to Monsanto.

    We ‘allow them to exist’, because the only alternative anyone offers to corporate oligarchy is ‘socialist’ state monopoly where power is even more concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite minority. Monsanto is slightly less oppressive that Cuban style state agriculture, for example… so reasonable people choose the lesser of two evils.

  21. This sounds a bit like the De Beers cartel’s hold on diamonds – except, of course, one can live without diamonds, no matter what the man on TV says.

    1. its ironic, USA, Australia and all of Europe are fat greedy countries with largly over weight populations and significant food supplies, more than we eat times many. But now we are being fed this spin that we need GM food because we are having trouble growing food?? We need GM modified foods with additives that help prevent modern cancers, that these same companies give to us with chemical compounds they pretend to know nothing about, up to the point when 500,000 old people sue them. I am not sure, we need GM food with additives that have more vitamins because the industrial food process takes them all away,
      they wont put fresh food on our shelves, because of our “ever increasing busy life styles” we have no time to cook normal food, sorry kids it packets r us from preservative town for the rest of our lives, oh mum cant we have an apple, sorry kids they only come in these tins now, dont worry its full of artificial goodness, chemical colouring and all the good stuff that will kill you before you can spend your retirement. cant we grow an apple tree mum, sorry kids remember we had to pull out all the fruit trees when Monsanto sued us for endangering their GM crops with cross pollenation, oh mum cant we buy seeds from them and grow a tree so we can eat fresh food, sorry son one seed costs 5 times our house which the bank is trying to take back anyway, wow farming has improved in the name of profit,
      To me its all spin, hunger in Africa, save them with GM, more cancer in society, bla bla bla bla bla bla, I dont buy it. All these corporations are owned by the same groups, so what do we have a situation where the world is almost a monopoly and they can take food away from us whenever they want because of some technicality on who owns craps seeds and pollen. Imagine, sorry Africa you cant buy seeds this year because we are short 100,000lbs of gold that you owe us for loans we gave you that we printed out of thin air and funneled through the IMF, oh well Africa couldnt save their seeds, could only use monsanto which dont produce seeds, so what can africa do, trade more gold and oil for food? eat grass, no thats probably owned by Dupont…I am sure you understand my point. We really live in a sophisticated fuedal system, I just wish I was one of those autocrats, how fun their life must be playing all these games…….

  22. I think that Monsanto is wrong with regards to corn. I don’t think they should be able to claim ownership of another persons crop just because they polluted it. However, concerning posters comments about farmers saving seed, I don’t think people understand how seed has worked in the past. Sure most people know that once upon a time, farmers would save the seed from their crop to plant the next year. They get angry when they hear that this is no longer possible because of some contract with a seed producer. The problem with that is that farmers have been purchasing F1 hybrids from seed producers for a very long time. These are made by making a first generation cross and selling the resulting seeds. These seeds are then planted by the farmers. The plants from these F1 seeds will not produce seeds that are true. Because of this it is completely pointless for the farmer to save seed. This means that they have to buy more hybrid seed from the seed company. The seed companies didn’t need a contract because no one in their right mind would try to save seed from a F1 hybrid, however the result was exactly the same. No one was lamenting about the plight of the farmers then. Maybe this is because the farmers were capturing gains in yields and were benefiting from the model. It is only now that this model is enforced by contract that people are getting upset maybe because it dovetails with people’s fear over GMO’s or disdain for IP.

    1. While I understand it’s a potential drawback, my understanding is that this issue has been overemphasized by Monsanto compared to the actual results. Farmers have raised and harvested crops from this practice, and the only hazards noted were Monsanto attorneys.

      1. @Snig
        I’m not certain about to what you are referring with “it’s” in your first sentence. I was drawing a parallel between the need for farmers to purchase seed every year because of a legally binding contract and the need for farmers to purchase seed every year because of the failure of F1 hybrids to breed true. I find it interesting that the first draws ire but the second does not even though the end result is the same. I was not however saying that the Monsanto GMO’s are exactly like F1 in that they don’t produce usable seed. It is my understanding that the seed is only legally unusable.

  23. another scary part is the fact that between 70-80% of the north american diet is made up of processed corn and soy. this represents the majority of people existing on genetically modified empty calories. and almost all of these are from monsanto-mutant crops.

    monsanto is evil. no question there. but there are a lot of other companies that exist to essentially harm. somehow our plates were hijacked, the food replaced by fats, sugars, high-glucose corn syrups, soybean oil, and chemicals.

    countless people are unaware that they mostly subsist on an incredibly unhealthy diet of food-like products.

    i’m lucky that my community is has enough local growers that i get fresh, local, and often organic produce and meats for much of the year — even in canada! i also only have grains as a small part of my diet.

    i have chosen to cut out processed food in my diet and, in this way, am giving the finger to monsanto and the other multi-nationals that have tried to take over my food choices.

  24. someone asked: who made monsanto ruler of the world? we did, by not doing what it takes to change this before now. so who’s gonna take up the cause? we’ll need a well funded, organized campaign: letters to the editor, contacts with legislators, protests, pocketbook voting, anti-trust lawsuits, etc.


  25. To see the kind of future this could bring on read, “Windup Girl” or “The Calorie Man” by Paolo Bacigalupi. When all the world’s food supplies are owned by a few.

  26. Not so different from Edison basically owning alternating current. It’s still early in the (biotech) game, people. All in due time. It’s not like trust busting has gone away.

    Why, when it comes to Monsanto, is the sky always falling?

    1. These problems don’t solve themselves by sitting back and letting nature or politics or economics take course. It just looks that way to the complacent and ignorant because the “sky-is-falling” radicals who foment reform are a small and purposefully forgotten element in most history. Pick your battles, but somebody has to be the ones to start the process of beating Monsanto back.

  27. In the “science fiction is often about the present category” I would refer the commentors to the excellent book, Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, or even just his short story, Calorie Man. His “future” world extrapolates current trends in GMO crops and patented gene lines to a world (and the climate and energy crisis) where multinational corporations own the only seeds that produce food that survives the various rusts and blights that exist in his future. It is implied that the rusts and blights are just corporate “competition” or in some cases caused by the corporation itself so that farmers have to buy new seed and new varieties.

    I have to believe that competition from the other companies (Syngenta and DuPont are in lawsuits) mentioned in the article will get some of these patents and agreements broken. Depending on corporate competition to free up the food supply probably gives people here the willies, but if you gather a bunch of money in one spot like Monsanto has with patents and licenses and contracts that will only attract others to the pool and they will find a way to get something out of it.

  28. Monsanto will be a big winner with cap&trade,especially via zero till genetically modified crops, round-up ready canola for one, farmers in Canada are already recieving money via chicago Climate Exchange.

  29. It’s interesting Monsanto has someone trolling the blogs, posting links to their own blog in response to an AP article. Everyone’s got to work somewhere doing something, I guess. Hope they pay you well, Kathleen.

    1. She’s a rep for Monsanto, not an astroturfer. We welcome responses from post subject when they identify themselves.

  30. Anonymous at 31:

    You do not hate GM. You hate monoculture and uniform varieties all over. None of the cases you named are actually GM crops. Say they are? I’d like some evidence.

    From the Monsanto PR piece:

    “A depiction that somehow our actions are hurting small companies is just plain wrong. The facts are no seed company has invested more in the last ten years to bring new seed products to farmers than Monsanto, and no company has done more to broadly license those inventions than Monsanto. This includes licensing both seed genetics and trait technologies.”

    Exactly what i said. They and a few others are the only ones able to navigate through the fear maze. And I fail to see that they deny, despite all their talk that they actually ask for permission to stack different modifications on the same plant. They might have done more stacking that anybody else, but that does not means that it is so precisely because only they can do it legally, and they might be hindering the others unless they benefit from stacking.

    Kathleen, can you elaborate on that? Is it true that you do not allow stacking without permission?

  31. Well, if United breaks guitars, Monsanto is breaking the planet. Perhaps we need a viral something or other. Ideas?

  32. And of course Natureâ„¢ has already developed RoundUpâ„¢ resistant insects. Who didn’t see that one coming?

    1. Well actually Roundup is a weed killer, but it’s true that Round-up resistant weeds are arising. Bt-ready corn is the GMO that has insecticide in its tissue; don’t know if Bt resistant insects have occurred yet.

  33. Are the Gnu people interested in inventing open-source GM crops?

    I wonder what the agricultural equivalent of Linux would be.

    1. “I wonder what the agricultural equivalent of Linux would be.”

      I think it’s just called “agriculture”. You know, plain old farming. Or growing veggies in your garden.

  34. “In the “science fiction is often about the present category” I would refer the commentors to the excellent book, Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi”

    I’d refer the writer of that quote to current reality, where Paolo Bacigalupi enjoys copyright protection to his works.

    When Paolo puts the fruit of all of his labor in the public domain, I’ll listen to his criticisms of intellectual property rights.

  35. warreno: Actually traditional agriculture is pretty much like OSX, pretty and useful, but you are not supposed to hack it.

Comments are closed.