Issue 247: June 2007

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Extreme Capitalism

 

Some of our very faithful readers will remember when The Ram’s Horn was devoted to all things sheep. It’s been a number of years now since a subscriber commented, ‘there is nothing about sheep in this issue!’ That subscriber is still with us, though, as we have expanded our horizons, and increasingly find ourselves focusing on the unrelenting advance of corporate consolidation and control which has come to characterize the global industrial food system. At the same time, of course, people are ‘pushing back’ through small-scale, locally-focused and ecological food and farming systems around the world.

As these two radically different agendas create stark alternatives, both farmers and the public have to make fundamental choices as to which road to take. Via Campesina offers the peasant way of food sovereignty, a subsistence perspective (in the words of Maria Mies), and a clear negation of  industrial production and corporate control, including control via genetic engineering, patenting and identity preserved contracts.

As for ‘the public’, some large environmental organizations seem to find it impossible to recognize the profound contradictions between the two paths. For example, World Wildlife Fund supports corporate monoculture GE soy production in South America, albeit with some qualifications, while the Nature
Conservancy supports tree plantations for biofuel production. Fortunately there are other organizations, such as GRAIN <www.grain.org and the World Rainforest Movement <www.wrm.org.uy> which have a clear head and a clear analysis of interests being pursued and games being played. The International Rivers Network <www.irn.org/> is another, with a critical focus on big rivers and dams.

It is, of course, in the interests of what used to be called agribusiness to mask their manipulations of wealth and power. The promotion of monoculture, GM agro-fuels as the ‘green’ solution to the energy crisis is one method. Another is the move to mammoth equity investment schemes which permit greater and greater concentration of control and profit at a level far removed from ordinary shareholders or the businesses they are assumed to control.

Example: The Amsterdam-based international food-and-beverage retailer Ahold NV sold its subsidiary US Foodservice, to a group of private-equity investors in a deal valued at $7.1 billion. The consortium buying US Foodservice, which supplies food to restaurants and hotels, is comprised of Clayton, Dubilier & Rice Fund VII LP and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. – WSJ, 3/5/07

sheep

Example: Carrefour SA, the world’s second-largest retailer, has agreed to buy Brazilian discounter Atacadao for about $1.09 billion (US). The deal will make Carrefour the largest food retailer in South America’s largest economy.  Carrefour’s total sales in Brazil in 2006 came to $5.16 billion.                   – FT, 24/4/07

Example:
 Emer ÓBroin, Monsanto’s VP Environmental Safety, Health and Human Rights, is the new Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) of the USA. Monsanto has been involved with WHC since 1989. “WHC is a nonprofit, non-lobbying organization dedicated to increasing the quality and amount of wildlife habitat on corporate, private and public lands. WHC devotes its resources to building partnerships with corporations and conservation groups to create solutions that balance the demands of economic growth [our emphasis] with the requirements of a healthy, biodiverse and sustainable environment.”                            – www.wildlifehc.org

Example:
 Monsanto made its first bid to buy Delta & Pine Land, the world’s largest cotton seed company, in 1998. The deal collapsed amid global controversy over Delta & Pine Land’s Terminator patent. In August 2006, Monsanto announced its second try for Delta & Pine Land; in June 2007 the United States Justice Department gave the green light for Monsanto’s $1.5 billion takeover of Delta and Pine Land (D&PL) contingent on divestiture of its Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Co. and NexGen cotton seed brand.  Monsanto has completed the sale of Stoneville to Bayer CropScience for $310 million and NexGen to Americot for $6.8 million, allowing it to proceed with the incorporation of  the D&PL business into its existing operations and policies.  At the same time, Monsanto has reaffirmed its existing policy not to develop or utilize sterile seed technology, such as the so-called ”terminator” technology, to which Delta and Pine Land has rights.
                      – www.Monsanto.com, 19/6/07

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, accounts for more than one-fifth of the global proprietary seed market.  Based on 2006 revenues, the top 10 seed corporations account for 55% of the commercial seed market worldwide.  The top 3 companies – Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta – account for $8,552 million, or 44% of the total proprietary seed market. – www.etcgroup.org

Although Monsanto repeatedly insists that it does not hold patents on Terminator, Monsanto was granted a Terminator patent published under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, WO97/44465 “Method for Controlling Seed Germination Using Soybean ACYL COA Oxidase Sequences.” The 91-page patent, published in November 1997, details the company’s research on genetic seed sterilization and offers evidence of the company’s intention to apply for patents worldwide. The Canadian Patent Office granted a patent to Delta & Pine Land and the US Department of Agriculture for the Terminator technology they developed together in October, 2005.

Monoculture - from an art exhibit by Kim Jei-Min, Seoul

Monoculture - from an art exhibit by Kim Jei-Min, Seoul


 

 

#247: June 2007 TOC
Extreme Capitalism: moving from covering sheep issues to the issues of monocultures and equity investment
More than cotton fabrics: genetic manipulation of cottonseed
Corporate power: Agrofuels and the Expansion of Agribusiness - excerpts from a new article from GRAIN
Coke, Cargill, and Bottled Water: a series of items
Websites: recommended, the Bioscience Resource Project; request for suggestions for The Ram's Horn site
Brazil's Landless Break Up with Lula: the MST, Brazilian Movement of Landless Rural Workers, launches a strong critique of the President
Judge Bans Bayer's Transgenic Corn: Judicial disapproval in Brazil
Rigged Vote and Magic Sticks: Canada's Agriculture Minister's manipulation of due process
Big Meat: the game of leveraging and mergers and acquisitions in the global meat business
US needs its illegal migrant workers: how the rich get richer, again.
 

 

 

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