Monsanto. It’s hard to even say the name without triggering a strong reaction.
The company has long been the public face of GMOs, thanks in part to
the sheer dominance of its corn, soy, cotton, and other crops engineered
to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup.
But pretty soon, Monsanto may no longer exist. At least not in its current form.
On Wednesday, the German chemical conglomerate Bayer offered to buy up Monsanto for $56 billion,
in what could prove to be the largest corporate merger of the year.
Monsanto has accepted the bid. And if the deal is approved by regulators
— still an open question — the new company would become the largest
agribusiness on the planet, selling 29 percent of the world’s seeds and
24 percent of its pesticides.
That would put the new firm in a commanding position
vis-à-vis our food supply. Which is why European Union regulators and
the US Department of Justice are likely to scrutinize this deal more closely than usual, to
make sure it doesn’t create an all-consuming monopoly that can crank up
prices on farmers and shoppers. The deal comes amid a blurry rush of
agribusiness consolidation in recent months, with ChemChina-Syngenta and
DuPont-Dow Chemical forming their own multibillion-dollar Voltrons.
Some onlookers are fretting that the reduced competition could shrivel up innovation,
leading to slower improvements in crop yields. Others worry that these
new agricultural giants may have outsize political power. "They’ll have
more ability to lobby governments," says Phil Howard of Michigan State University,
who studies consolidation in the food industry. "They’ll have a lot
more power to shape policies that benefit themselves at the expense of
consumers and farmers."