Big mergers, big troubles. The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES – Food) concluded so in its last report “Too big to feed: Exploring the impacts of mega-mergers, consolidation and concentration of power in the agri-food sector”, launched last October 13th in Rome. The two-year study focuses on trends in the agri-food industry, analyzing the implications for producers and consumers.
The threat is not abstract: agri-businesses mergers put the future of our food system at risk, not just in terms of production, but in terms of fairness and market access. In its introduction, the report stresses the changes that have occurred over the last 50 years. In the 1970s, there was no comparable concentration of market power. Today, the leading six seed and pesticide enterprises control more than 60% of the global seed market and more than 70% of the pesticide market. The situation is about to worsen, if the acquisitions that are today on the table succeed: three firms will reign over more than 60% of the combined world sales of both seeds and pesticides.
Olivier De Schutter, IPES-Food co-chair and former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, says, “rampant consolidation in the agri-food industry is bad for farmers, whose incomes are squeezed at one end by a handful of input providers, and at the other by processing and retail giants with huge bargaining power.”
The situation is indeed worrisome for farmers, but also for society as a whole. Firms, such as Monsanto and Bayer, are pushing in a completely unsustainable direction, focusing their efforts on new breeding techniques of GM plant varieties, as it is cheaper and more efficient to adapt new plants to old chemicals. Two recent studies conducted in European countries show clearly that the private plant breeding industry is oriented towards very few species. Jeopardizing our biodiversity will not help counteract the challenged posed by climate change. Moreover, the price of seeds has increased considerably in the last years, a clear sign of the grip of these giants have on the market: they produce the seeds, set the price and control the market unchallenged.
The concentration of market power has reached unprecedented levels. The report’s findings include data on the animal genetics industry, where three companies supply over 90% of the breeding stock for broilers, layer hens, turkeys and pigs. Astonishing merger and acquisition deals have been seen in the industry, involving the food processing sector (Heinz and Kraft Foods – $55 billion), beverages (AB InBev and SABMiller – $120 billion) and retail (Amazon and Whole Foods -$13,7 billion).
IPES has further stressed the urgency to intervene on the merger deal between Bayer and Monsanto in a letter the Panel of Experts sent to the European Commission: “We are particularly concerned that a merger between Bayer AG and Monsanto will exacerbate the already unhealthy concentration in seeds and pesticides not just within the European Union but around the world”. In addition, they offer to provide evidence of the proposed merger’s negative impact to the Commission, which “far from stimulating innovation and providing farmers and consumers with a wider range of choices – shall increase uniformity and reduce the ability for farmers to diversify their production”.
Slow Food urges the European Commission to consider the IPES proposition. However, the issue has to be managed at the international level and requires a collaborative assessment of agri-food consolidation and a UN Treaty on Competition, as suggested by the Panel. At the same time, short supply chains, innovative distribution and solidarity economy initiatives must be supported immediately, and with more than words.
 IPES-Food, Too big to feed: Exploring the impacts of mega-mergers, concentration, concentration of power in the agri-food sector, 2017.
 Hilbeck, A., Lebrecht, T., Vogel, R., Heinemann, J.A. and Binimelis, R., 2013. Farmer’s choice of seeds in four EU countries under different levels of GM crop adoption. Environmental Sciences Europe, 25 and Solberg, S.O. and Breian, L., 2015. Commercial cultivars and farmers’ access to crop diversity: A case study from the Nordic region, Agricultural and Food Science, 24(2), pp. 150-163.
 Fuglie, K., Heisey, P., King, J., Pray, C., Day-Rubenstein, K., Schimmelpfennig, D., Wang, S.L., Karmarkar-Deshmukh, R., 2011. Research Investments and Market Structure in the Food Processing, Agricultural Input, and Biofuel Industries Worldwide. USDA, Economic Research Service, December 2011.
 IPES-Food, Letter to the European Commissioner Vestager –DG Competition, October 6th, 2017.