Bayer, a German-based global agricultural chemical company, is seeking to purchase one of the United States’ largest genetically modified seed companies, Monsanto and maker of RoundUp Ready, in a $66 billion deal. If the proposed merger is approved, it would strengthen corporate power over the world’s agriculture market, giving them a combined market share in seeds and pesticides of about 28%—all of this during a time when the world’s seed stock is a meager 10% of what our forefathers had and as citizens and nonprofit organizations push back against the tampering of the world’s food supply.
The proposed deal will test the Trump’s administration ability to focus not just on business but its willingness to enforce antitrust laws at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission. Preceding his inauguration, Trump met with Bayer Chief Executive Werner Baumann and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant, who were purportedly seeking to smooth the way for the regulatory approval needed to approve the deal. Following the meeting, the media widely reported that the two executives told Trump that the merger would not threaten U.S. jobs and that the deal would create several thousand new high-tech jobs in the United States, an overt appeal to Trump’s campaign promises to improve U.S. manufacturing and create jobs.
What is at stake here is not jobs, however, but a global health issue, the safety and freedom of the worldwide food supply, and the fettering of untested and unknown effects GMO crops are having on the ecosystem. GMOs have been shown to cause cancer in humans and to irreversibly change our genetic micro RNA processes, passing down modifications at the cellular level in humans. Genetically engineered seeds containing pesticides in the genome have also been shown to be harming the planet’s bee population and other wildlife. A recently released study in Sweden showed that bird populations are also suffering through the ingestion of insects that have eaten GMO crops or in their diminishing availability for feeding.
Although Trump railed against the pharmaceutical industries predatory practices during his campaign, little is known about his views on GMOs and agriculture except a politically charged tweet he made on the campaign stump in Iowa.
But it isn’t looking good for those of us who care about the integrity of our food supply and keeping seeds out of the hands of corporate conglomerates. Donald Trump has picked Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris to head the American Manufacturing Council, another potential conflict of interest in top government and a continuation of the corrupt “revolving door” practices of chemical giants and U.S. regulatory agencies.
Trump has also tapped two-time former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture. Perdue has deep roots in agriculture as the son of a farmer and ran three businesses in the industry, but little is known about his views on genetic engineering.
Ultimately, the approval of the mergers will fall to the Department of Justice, where Trump-appointed Jeff Sessions, as Attorney General, will be charged with investigating the economic impact and antitrust implications of the proposed merger. However, it has been reported that Sessions has received campaign contributions from both Monsanto and Bayer.
In addition to the Monsanto deal, which would create the world’s largest supplier by sales of both seeds and pesticides, Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. are also pursuing a merger that would create another agricultural giant, while China National Chemical Corp. plans to buy Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta AG.
It is a crucial time in agriculture and the stakes could not be higher for watchdogs seeking to create a food system that is transparent, safe, and free of powerful corporate control with unholy ties to regulatory agencies. A tall order. The corporate machine of genetically engineered seeds and research is firmly entrenched in government and on the offense, as highlighted in Monday’s announcement by the USDA’s own powerful scientific research arm division, the Agricultural Research Service, where it ordered employees to cease publication of “outward facing” documents and news releases.
According to an article in the Washington Post, “The Agricultural Research Service employs thousands of in-house scientists, maintains scores of research locations around the country and boasts a $1 billion budget. It is tasked with conducting research to ‘develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority,’ according to the USDA. That research focuses on topics such as food safety, nutrition, animal and crop production, and agricultural sustainability.”
More disturbing but not surprising is the media spin on the announcement where the Associated Press published that it was Trump himself that banned reporters from speaking with employees, which can be relegated as complete fake news. The announcement was instead issued by ARS chief Sharon Drumm in an email to employees and states: “Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents. This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.” Further, the announcement by Drumm seems to contradict acting deputy administrator Michael Young’s USDA memo, which was according to him, intended to offer guidance on “interim procedures” until a new secretary takes over USDA.”
It remains to be seen whether Trump will be tone death to public cries for reform of USDA policies that favor organic, non-GMO farming methods but what is clear is that the enemy is formidable and has had decades to become entrenched in Washington. The battle to reign is real, so let’s roll up our sleeves, remain vigilant, and reign well.