“A global threat lies ahead worsened after the EU’s green light to the Bayer-Monsanto merger”, a Sting Exclusive by the President of Slow Food

Slow Food Carlo Petrini.jpg

Carlo Petrini, President of Slow Food (Slow Food, 2018)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mr Carlo Petrini, founder and President of Slow Food, a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions and counteract the rise of fast food culture. The opinion expressed in this piece belongs strictly to the writer and does not necessarily reflect The European Sting’s one.

When a growing share of food production is in the hands of an increasingly small number of multinationals, to the detriment of small farms, food sovereignty is at risk. Many people might ask why this matters, not fully grasping the dangers involved. There’s no two ways about it: a global threat lies ahead which has recently worsened after the European Union’s green light to the Bayer-Monsanto merger.

According to La Via Campesina, food Sovereignty is peoples right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, as well as their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. But when four multinationals control around 70% of the world trade in agricultural raw materials (wheat, corn and soy, followed by sugar, palm oil and rice), and the market for seeds and pesticides is in the hands of even fewer companies, are people really in a position to make a free choice? Can farmers freely decide what to grow and consumers what food to buy?

Of course not.

Two American companies DuPont and Dow Chemical merged in September of last year, while ChemChina recently purchased the Swiss group Syngenta, and now the German companies Bayer and Monsanto have become one company with the blessing of  European institutions. This means that three multinationals hold up to 70% of the world’s agro-chemicals and up to 60% of commercial seeds.

As Friends of the Earth recently denounced «these gigantic powerful companies are not feeding the majority of people worldwide, as they would like to think, rather the opposite – threatening long-term global food security for the sake of profits. Big cash cows for Bayer and Monsanto respectively are insecticides called ‘neonicotinoids’, whose active ingredients are a main driver of the large-scale death of bees and other pollinators, and the weed-killer glyphosate, found to “probably cause cancer in humans” by the World Health Organization (WHO)».

Despite the fact that most of public opinion is increasingly concerned by the health and environmental consequences associated with the use of chemicals in agriculture and food production, despite the fact that it was clear the merger of two such large companies creates a de facto monopoly, despite the fact that the role of institutions governing us should precisely be to protect citizens and their freedom, despite all this –  the EU has allowed this merger to take place.

How could this happen? Are our institutions blind and deaf? Why were so many arguments which demonstrated the dangers of such a merger put forward by numerous civil society organizations, including Slow Food, not taken into consideration? Why was a major study from University College London’s Faculty of Laws, released on the last World Food Day, not even considered?

The authors of the report claimed that “the European Commission should be obliged to block the merger even on a narrow reading of EU competition law”. The academics also called on the European Commission to broaden its investigation of the merger to take into account the full social and environmental costs, as they are likely to lead to important risks for food security, safety, biodiversity and will impact food prices, food quality, variety and innovation.

According to Article 81 of the Treaty of Rome (now Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) anti-monopolistic provisions are expressly designed to ensure that competition within the common market is not prevented, restricted or distorted.

However, the decision to approve the merger between Bayer and Monsanto was taken in a situation already largely conditioned by an enormous concentration of power. Large multinational companies control the markets and influence governments and parliaments. Thanks again to research by Friends of the Earth Europe and the Corporate Europe Observatory, it has emerged that Bayer and Monsanto’s combined spending on declared lobbying activities in the EU for 2015 alone was €13,521,187. The real amount is likely to be much higher. Monsanto and Bayer have built a vast network of influencers to bend EU laws and safety standards in their favour.

That is the crucial point we are facing today in Europe: it is a struggle to defend democracy, so that it does not become an empty word, so that EU institutions do not lose their meaning, giving opportunities to the populists and disintegrating forces that are rising in Europe and putting our future at risk.

When the Bayer Monsanto merger was approved, I tried to base my comment on a note of hope, stating that it’s worth considering an alternative analysis of the situation: these mergers between corporate giants are also a sign of weakness, borne out of necessity to maintain profit margins by reducing operational costs. The image of the giants with clay feet came to my mind.

But how to transmit this hope to the small-scale farmers working in agriculture in Europe, who are, in myriad ways, fighting to defend biodiversity, promote native breeds, acting locally to develop healthy and clean economies?

Unlike the rest of the world, farmers in Europe are a small percentage of the population and they do not have the economic strength of multinationals. They have little influence on politics. That is why I will never tire of saying that we must strengthen the alliance between farmers and ordinary citizens, whom I call co-producers, to make the voice of the many heard… and to ensure that David prevails against Goliath.

About the author

Carlo Petrini is a journalist, author and advocate for a sustainable food system and has been working since the 1980’s to promote eco-gastronomy. He is the founder and President of Slow Food, a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions and counteract the rise of fast food culture. In May 2016, he received the appointment from the President of FAO, Graziano De Silva, as a Special Ambassador to Zero Hunger for Europe, the initiative to increase public awareness on the need to improve agriculture in Europe and ensure a sustainable food supply chain.

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