(Beyond Pesticides,Â September 19, 2016) Last week, aÂ proposed Bayer-Monsanto merger was announced, as St. Louis-based agrichemical giantÂ Monsanto Co. agreed to sell the companyÂ to German pharmaceutical and chemical conglomerate, Bayer, inÂ an unprecedented $66 billion dollar deal. It is the merger of two companies that have been tied to past atrocities against humanity, one whose chemical product wasÂ usedÂ to killÂ concentration camp victims under Adolf Hitler and the other a producer of theÂ deadly defoliant, Agent Orange, which was sprayed by the U.S. government over Vietnam and left a legacy of health damage to the Vietnamese people and U.S. veterans of the armed forces. At the same time, these companies are currently embroiled in controversy onÂ some of the most hazardous pesticides, including glyphosate (RoundupTM) and neonicotinoids, used in food production and in communities and home gardensÂ Â âcontinuing a history of profiting from a technology that has adverse effects on human life and the environment, but has been shown to be unnecessary and unsustainable in food production and the management of lawns, landscapes, playing fields, and parks.
In 1995, the Associated Press reported that the then-CEO of Bayer,Â Helge Wehmeier, apologized to Elie Wiesel, Ph.D., holocaust survivor, author, activist, and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize recipient,Â for his predecessor corporation’s (I.G. Farben) role in chemical testing on and killing concentration camp prisoners. He said, “I have sorrow and regret and apologize for the inhumanity in my country and for what I.G. Farben did to your people.” The AP reported, “Bayer’s parent company, Bayer AG, was part of the German chemical conglomerate I.G. Farben [IGF], which ran slave-labor factories during the Holocaust, including one at which Wiesel worked as a teenager.Â IGF also had a decisive share in a company that made Zyklon B gas, used to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews at Auschwitz, where Wiesel’s mother and sister died.” More detail, according to Alliance for Human Research Protection: “IG Farben was the most powerful German corporate cartel in the first half of the 20th century and the single largest profiteer from the Second World War. IG (Interessengemeinschaft) stands for âAssociation of Common Interestsâ: IG Farben included BASF, Bayer, Hoechst, and other German chemical and pharmaceutical companies.Â As documents show, IG Farben was intimately involved with the human experimental atrocities committed by Mengele at Auschwitz.Â A German watchdog organization, the GBG Network, maintains copious documents and tracks Bayer Pharmaceutical activities.”
InÂ reprinting an article from 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, theÂ Centre forÂ Research on Globalization published this statement on its website: “It is of particular relevance in relation to the announced merger between Monsanto and Bayer and the worldwide campaign against Monsanto.Â Both companies are complicit in crimes against humanity, Monsantoâs agent orange used by the US military in Vietnam, Â IG-Farben Bayerâs historical links to Nazi war crimes.”
In order to gain control of Monsanto, Bayer increased its offer to $128.00 a share, up from the $127.50 theÂ companyÂ offered earlier this month. The pharmaceutical giant has been pursuing Monsanto in an attempt to become the worldâs largest biotechnology and pesticide manufacture, raising concerns by those who oppose the mega-merger of limited choices for acquiring seed and increased pesticide sales and dependence. This is just the latest development in a flurry of activity surrounding mergers in the multinationalÂ agriculture and chemical industries in the past year.
In December 2015, chemical giants DuPont and Dow Chemical Compa nies announced that their boards of directors unanimouslyÂ approved a merger of their companiesÂ through an all-stock deal, valuing the combined market capitalization at $130 billion. Then, in May of 2016,Â Bayer AG made its first bid for Monsanto, worth $42 billion, in an attempt to swallow the global seed and chemical producer and become the worldâs biggest farm chemical supplier, though that initial bid was initially rejected in favor of the one approved last week. Finally, in February 2016,Â China National Chemical Corp. acquired Syngenta AG, and then cleared a major hurdle to the merger this past August when the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) gave the go-ahead for the merger to move forward, a deal worth nearly $43 million. The Bayer takeover of Monsanto willÂ be the largest merger yet, valued at $66 billion. According toÂ Vox, the new company willÂ be the largest agribusiness in the world, selling 29 percent of the worldâs seeds and 24 percent of its pesticides. Additionally, it is predicted that if all three deals were to close, the three resulting companies would control nearly 70 percent of the world’s pesticide market and 80 percent of the U.S. corn-seed market, a harrowing statistic for anyone concerned about the impact chemical-intensive agriculture has on soil quality and overall environmental health.
Many of these big agricultural and chemical companies have been struggling to cope with falling demand for farm chemicals due to falling crop prices and a strong dollar, and many believe that a merger will provide longer-term security. However, for the billion-dollar agrichemical industry, a merger is likely to only provide short-term stability, increase the wealth of top executives, and raise the cost of food, as the new corporation will create a near monopoly thatÂ will allow itÂ to increase prices. Observers say, however, that in the long-term, the market will reveal that relying on the promotion of chemical-intensive agricultural practices is not a sustainable business practice. Chemical-intensive agriculture depends on chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides that have been shown toÂ reduce soil organic matter and decrease the diversity of soil biota. These chemical inputs contaminate waterways leading to eutrophication and âdead zones,â where nothing is able to live or grow. Eventually, as chemical-intensive agriculture depletes organic matter in the soil and there is nothing left with which to grow food or sustain life, toxic chemical inputs will become obsolete. Sustainability advocates say that theÂ only way that the agricultural industry can create a sustainable business model is to produce products that are compatible withÂ organic agriculture.
On the matter of the cost of food without toxic pesticides, data shows that the cost of chemical-intensive agriculture are far greater than organic production systems, although consumers pay for these in the form of increased taxes for chemical cleanups, emergency response toÂ accidents, and in health care utility bills, not at the grocery store. Chemical companies are able to externalize the social and environmental costs of their productsÂ in the form of eutrophication, soil erosion, harm to wildlife, illness (lost productivity) and health care costs to consumers, pollination, and numerous other adverse effects. Some researchers calculate the adverse impacts to health and the environment to be as much as $16.9 billion a year (Tegtmeier and Duffy 2004). If consumers paid the true cost of conventional food production, prices for conventionally grown goods would certainly be more expensive than organic products, which are certified through a process that protects human health and the environment.
The merger is not set in stone, however, and several stepsÂ must take placeÂ before the deal can be finalized. As with the ChemChina-Syngenta merger, the CFIUS would have to give the go ahead for the deal, as well as the European Commission, which generally opposed the use of genetically modified seeds, an area Monsanto specialized in. Monsanto readily admits they would have to file for approval in about 30 jurisdictions, diversifying the possibility of finding an unfavorable host. They will also have to withstand scrutiny and challenges from antitrust authorities and regulators with concerns over potential threats to national security, as well as to the food supply.
According to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, âThe attempted takeover of Monsanto by Bayer is a threat to all Americans. These mergers boost the profits of huge corporations and leave Americans paying even higher prices,â heÂ saidÂ in an official statement. âNot only should this merger be blocked, but the Department of Justice should reopen its investigation of Monsantoâs monopoly over the seed and chemical market.â
The former presidential candidate is not alone in his concern over the potential impact this large scale merger could have on the United States. U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has called a hearing tomorrow (Tuesday September 20, 2016) to scrutinize the wave of consolidation. While his concerns likely center around the impact of the merger to conventional farming methods, which are heavily reliant on seeds and chemicals produced by agro-industry players like Monsanto, and not on that of the organic industry, it does offer a chance for individuals opposed to the merger to voice their concerns. If you oppose the Bayer-Monsanto merger, please consider reaching out to your Senators or Representative to ask them to reject the approval of a merger that consolidate seed availability, and encourage them to instead focus on increasing the availability of organic seeds, which do not negatively impact soil, water or human health.
Good organic practices work to build the soil and maintain an ecological balance that makes chemical fertilizers and toxic synthetic pesticides obsolete. Claims that organic agriculture cannot feed the world because of lower yields are contested by scientific studies showing thatÂ organic yields are comparable to conventional yieldsÂ and require significantly lower inputs. Organic agriculture advocates say that it is not only necessary in order to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals, but to ensure the long-term sustainability of food production.
For further information, check out our webpages onÂ Organic Agriculture.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.