MARC STEINER: In 2016 I covered the battle by farmers and environmentalists to stop Bayer and Monsanto from merging into one company. The Department of Justice just ruled that the merger of these two corporate giants could take place. You know the name Bayer as aspirin. You might take an Aleve now and then for your pain, or whatever. But Bayer is one of the largest chemical and seed manufacturing giants on the planet. And Monsanto, that’s the company that rules the roost, so to speak, on how farmers farm, what they grow, how to grow it, the chemicals they can use on the ground, and how it’s used.
In the last few years we’ve seen other giants of industrial agriculture production emerge. ChemChina and the Swiss company Syngenta combined their pesticide and industrial seed might. Then came Dow Chemical and DuPont, another merger, seizing control of the market.
So what does all this mean for us? For our environment? For our farmers, for our farming? For our food? For the growth of these capitalist monopolies? How does it affect our lives?
We’re joined by Tiffany Finck-Haynes, who is program manager for Pesticides and Pollinators at Friends of the Earth, where she leads the organization’s work to eliminate toxic pesticides and advance sustainable and just food systems, protect people, pollinators, and our planet. In her role she leads the federal, state, local policy, and marketplace campaigns aimed at reforming industrial agriculture. And Tiffany Finck-Haynes, welcome. Good to have you with us here on The Real News.
TIFFANY FINCK-HAYNES: It’s good to be here, Marc.
MARC STEINER: So as I said earlier, I covered this a couple of years back. And it was stunted for a minute, we thought, or stopped. So what happened here? I mean, the U.S. Justice Department, DOJ, allowing this huge merger to take place?
TIFFANY FINCK-HAYNES: So, essentially, yesterday the Department of Justice ruled that they’ve allowed a monopoly to happen. This has been, as you said, a several-year process. There were over a dozen state attorney generals that were involved in joining DOJ in its investigation of the merger. There were over a million people across the country that signed petitions urging the Department of Justice to block this merger. There were an outpouring of farmer outrage urging the Department of Justice to block this merger. But yesterday DOJ essentially said it was disregarding all of that opposition and allowing these companies to go forward with their merger and become one enormous company.
MARC STEINER: But one of the things the DOJ said, apparently, is that because Bayer, I believe, it was allowed the sell off of $9 billion to BASF, that this would somehow ameliorate all that. There could be real competition. So it’s nothing to worry about, folks. We made it right. So what does that mean, and what’s the reality, from your perspective? What’s the real–what’s the real deal?
TIFFANY FINCK-HAYNES: Right. So I mean, what DOJ is essentially saying is, well, we’re going to take a little piece of Bayer in this part of the company here, and we’re going to give it to BASF. And that’s going to allow this merger to maintain competition in the marketplace. But as you mentioned at the beginning of that program, there’s been multiple mergers in the past several years. So we’ve moved to now essentially have just four companies in this marketplace, and Bayer-Monsanto was the last of these three megamergers to happen.
And so by allowing Bayer-Monsanto to merge we essentially have two big companies, Dow-DuPont, Bayer-Monsanto, and then these two smaller players, BASF and Syngenta. And even by just giving a small amount of Bayer–because in reality, nine billion dollars even though that’s a lot is not really much at all. When you think about the fact that this was a 66 billion dollar merger so by allowing the $9 billion to go to BASF worth of those company assets, BASF is a much smaller player. And so they’re not necessarily going to be able to compete at the same level that Dow-DuPont or Bayer-Monsanto are. So even though DOJ is saying, hey, everyone, we’re we’re all set, competition is good here, we know that’s not the case, that we’ve essentially ended up with only four companies in the marketplace. Only really two that are going to lock–to really be able to compete in this industry, and be manufacturing products that essentially lock farmers in to using the pesticides and chemicals that they manufacture.
And because there’s only two players in the market, that also means that there’s less incentive for them to create new products, for them to offer different prices for farmers. And so farmers’ options and prices they’re going to end up with now have really decreased. And this is a trend we’ve seen over decades of agriculture consolidation happening in the industry. And so there’s fewer and fewer options for farmers. And now, with essentially just two to four players, they’ve got very little that they can go off of.
MARC STEINER: Let me examine that for a minute, because I think one of the things here, the crux of this in some parts, besides the overall issue of monopolies, which we’ll talk about a minute, and what to do about that, is that Monsanto, let’s say for example, clearly has been this powerhouse that tells farmers what they can and can’t do. What chemicals they can put on, when they put them on. Don’t allow them to buy other people’s chemicals or pesticides, have to use theirs. And kind of really controls the agricultural marketplace and what farmers can do. And that’s had a huge negative effect on both the farming industry on what we eat. And you know, farmers have sued them and lost. Farmers in India are trying to battle them, saying no, you can’t do this in India, leave us alone. We have our own seed, you can’t control–they want to control the entire seed market of the planet. So in terms of what I just said, what does this merger mean? I mean, what–what is–what could happen because of this merger if it’s not stopped?
TIFFANY FINCK-HAYNES: So I mean, essentially, by allowing this merger to go through, the new combined company is the largest vegetable seed company in the world. It’s the largest seller of herbicides, like Monsanto’s Roundup, and it’s the largest-
MARC STEINER: Which is destroying us.
TIFFANY FINCK-HAYNES: It’s destroying us. I mean, there’s right now over 8,700 people suing Monsanto because they believe that their cancer, their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was given to them by essentially Monsanto, by being exposed to Monsanto’s Roundup. So there’s a number of farmers, groundskeepers, who apply these products every day who are suing Monsanto. There was one lawsuit so far that has ended in the company being forced to pay $289 million to the groundskeeper that found he had cancer. That amount was later reduced in the courts, and it’s still sort of being challenged by the companies. But by combining forces with Bayer, Bayer’s now assuming those responsibilities, too. And so Bayer is essentially taking on all of the Monsanto products, and that legacy doesn’t go away. And it’s going to continue.
I think one of the other things we’re most concerned about is what this means for the future of our food and farming system. So it means that, like you said, farmers are locked in to using these products, using seeds–a lot of genetically engineered seeds that are engineered to resist the application of pesticides. It means we’re getting more and more pesticide applications. And there’s been a massive increase in the use of pesticides, including glyphosate, neonicotinoids, and others that these companies manufacture.
MARC STEINER: That are killing off our pollinators.
TIFFANY FINCK-HAYNES: And then they other–are killing off all the pollinators. I mean, monarch butterflies have declined by over 90 percent in the last two decades. Beekeepers on average are losing 40 percent of their hives every year. And that’s just on average. I mean, beekeepers are losing way more, up to 60, 70, as much as 100 percent of their bees every year.
So there’s a clear correlation between the use of these pesticides and how they’re really killing off the very web of life we depend on for our environment and for our food system. And all of us that want to eat every day. So by these companies controlling the marketplace, they’re essentially telling farmers what to farm, which means that farmers can only farm certain things. And then there’s only certain things that show up in the supermarkets that we can purchase and that end up on our plates. So it’s really concerning.
The other thing we’re really concerned about with this merger is the possibility of expansion into digital agriculture. So, Bayer’s head said before its merger with Monsanto that they really wanted to merge because of its digital agriculture arm. So what that means-
MARC STEINER: What does that mean, what does that mean?
TIFFANY FINCK-HAYNES: Yeah. What that means is that essentially farmers are using some platforms where they will put in all of the steps they’ve taken on their farm. So how much fertiliser they’re using, when they’re planting, what they’re doing, and what Bayer and Monsanto can essentially do with their programming is tell a farmer that you should use x percentage of fertilizer, or x percentage of a product, in order to get the optimum growing environment that you need for your soil and for your environment. So that could be good if we were to use it to make sure that we’re trying to farm in the most environmentally sustainable way. However, our concern is that by giving farmers–farmers giving Bayer-Monsanto all of their data they’re essentially able to then see what is happening on every farm, and give tailored ads or recommendations to a farmer of exactly what to use. So they’re then able to say not only do we have your data and we know what you need for your farm, but you should use this exact product that we manufacture.
And the other thing they can do with these platforms is that farmers, if, you know, we’re neighbors farming, we both end up using that platform, Bayer and Monsanto, the combined Bayer-Monsanto, can then give us individualized prescriptions of what to use, and then also individualized pricing schemes, so that farmers really have no way to really bargain for fair pricing in this system. So that’s sort of the-
MARC STEINER: It sounds really Orwellian, as well.
TIFFANY FINCK-HAYNES: Yeah, exactly. It’s really the start of the new frontier of what we’re seeing, where they’re going. And so our concern is that not only are we getting fewer options in the marketplace, but there’s an incentive for these companies to get as many farmers into these programs as they can so that they can gather their data, and then control what they are using and encourage them to use the products that they manufacture.
MARC STEINER: So in the brief time we have left here, just very quickly. So the question is what do you do, then? I mean, what is the fightback? Given that this administration is what it is, this merger is allowed to take place, what is the fightback? What’s the strategy? How do you confront this?
TIFFANY FINCK-HAYNES: Well, I think what we know from this merger is that Americans overwhelmingly do not want to see monopolies. 90 percent of Americans that we polled were concerned about this merger. 93 percent of farmers didn’t want this merger to happen. And there are over a million people that signed petitions to DOJ urging them to block it. And what we found was that it wasn’t along party lines. Republicans and Democrats alike were concerned about this merger and didn’t want it to happen.
So what we’re urging our elected officials to do now is to support a bill in Congress that Senator Booker and Representative Pocan have introduced. It would put a moratorium on all big agriculture megamergers so that this can’t happen in the future. And what we need is more reform of our antitrust laws to ensure that these mergers can’t happen, that we’re not getting these big corporate monopolies, and essentially we need to stop them.
So that’s one thing we’re doing, and we’re urging everyone to contact their members of Congress and encourage them to cosponsor those bills, and make sure that they pass as soon as possible, and as soon as we have, hopefully–we believe that the American people, farmers, all don’t want this to happen. And so we need to make sure that we put pressure on our elected officials to support this.
MARC STEINER: Well, this has really been fascinating. I really appreciate you taking the time today with us. I mean, I think that we’re all looking–what we need maybe is Teddy Roosevelt flying from the left side this time to kind of break up the trusts, not allow this to take place and destroy our health and our future. Tiffany Finck-Haynes, thank you so much for joining us here on The Real News. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you.
TIFFANY FINCK-HAYNES: Great. Thanks for having me, Marc.
MARC STEINER: Thank you so much. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you for joining us.