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Monsanto Stumbles into Antitrust Trouble

Even as it bombards the airwaves and magazine ad pages to tout its commitment to “sustainable agriculture,” GMO seed giant Monsanto has been having a rough go on the PR front of late.

First came a report (PDF) from the Organic Center showing that the company’s core Round Up Ready products have sparked a veritable monsoon of herbicide use. According to the report, since the introduction of “herbicide tolerant” corn, soy, and cotton in 1996, farmers have sprayed 382.6 million more pounds of herbicides than they otherwise would have—the overwhelming bulk of it Monsanto’s “Roundup” brand glyphosate.

And the gusher is only growing larger. As farmers have come to increasingly rely on Roundup applications, glyphosate-resistant superweeds are spreading—inspiring farmers to both spray more Roundup and add other toxic chemicals to create herbicide cocktails. “Herbicide use on [herbicide-tolerant] crops rose a remarkable 31.4% from 2007 to 2008,” the report states.

Now that’s sustainable agriculture!

Meanwhile, Monsanto’s dominance over the GMO seed market—and thus over U.S. corn, soy, and cotton production—has become so intense and obvious that “U.S. Department of Justice lawyers are seeking documents and interviewing company employees about its marketing practices,” AP reports.

The DOJ is also gearing up for a public workshop on competition in the seed industry, to be held in Iowa next March 10. The workshops, designed to hear farmer concerns over consolidation in the agriculture industry, will be co-directed by the Department of Agriculture. If U.S. authorities actually did crack down on companies that use their market power to squeeze farmers, it would would mark an epochal shift in antitrust policy, as Barry C. Lynn shows in this classic 2006 Harper’s essay.

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