corporate control

Since 1970 multinational companies have bought or taken control of nearly a thousand, once independent, seed companies. The purchase of Pioneer Hi-Bred in 1999, the world’s largest seed company, for $7.7 billion by Du-Pont, is part of a trend of concentration of power in the life sciences industry. The $23 billion global seed trade is now dominated by a handful of giant corporations.

A survey by anti-trust officials at the EEC revealed returns on sales of seeds of 40-45%. Commercial breeders inevitably target their products at affluent farmers with the most favourable growing conditions. The development of new crop varieties is determined by the agenda of corporate profit and not the needs of growers, consumers or the environment.


The commercial agricultural seed market began with the development of hybrids. Prior to World War I the seed trade consisted of merchants of exotic plant seed collected from the colonised world. Farmers were persuaded to buy hybrid seed because of its high yield. As seeds collected from hybrid crops loose their vigour, farmers were forced to purchase new ones each season.

Patents   Multinational corporations have succeeded in gaining patent rights over new crop varieties. In 1970 the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act was passed. Plant protection regimes offered opportunities for profit and created the incentive for corporate interests to buy control of the seed industry. Thousands of patents have been granted on plants. Indigenous plants that have been used for centuries have been patented, this practice has been termed biopiracy. Commenting on the international property (TRIPS) of GATT which will enforce patents and intellectual property rights internationally, James Enyart of Monsanto stated “Industry has identified a major problem in international trade. It crafted a solution, and sold it to our own and other governments”.