Bayer, Monsanto and what do we eat?

This week's editorial discusses the potential of a bumper crop and international markets.

Farmers have been going through a difficult harvest season, mainly because of an unusually moist and cool end of summer.

While there are predictions of a bumper crop, there is also the possibility that some of the crops on the field may have declined in quality due to unpredictable weather.

We will probably have a better picture of how the harvest has ended up in a couple of weeks.

Then it will be the time for many farmers to sit down and start to go through their books and scan market prices for their crop and search for opportunities to sell what they have raised at the best possible price.

Observers of the international markets have been reporting that with favourable weather in other parts of the world, the yields appear to be quite a bit above average while major importers of agricultural crops like China and Egypt are setting strict conditions on the quality of what they will agree to buy. Add to that the recent announcement that Russia, one of world’s major grain exporters, cancelling the export tax for its producers, there you have multiple factors weighing on the prices on the downside.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during his recent official visit to China, did appear to manage to delay the implementation of China’s strict restrictions on canola imports, but the whole affair was just a reconfirmation of the reality that it is the Beijing government who has the stronger hand in the game. Canola being one of the most important export commodities grown by Alberta farmers, how future negotiations will have an impact on this sector is anybody’s guess.

With no bright prospects for the recovery of the oil prices any time soon, Alberta’s economy will need the agriculture sector to perform strongly to prevent a further implosion. But is it easier said than done?

As readers might remember, a recent column published on this page (Aug. 10 edition) laid out the largely unspoken problem of indebtedness in the agricultural sector. That article placed ours in the worst situation of all provinces with more than a $20 billion debt burden on Alberta farmers as compared to $6 billion of BC and $8 billion of Manitoba. The same article also made a point that indebtedness was the main reason for growing monopolization in the agricultural sector.

That agriculture has also been infected with the same virus as all the other sectors of the economy, the virus of addiction to debt, is no surprise; nor is the lack of any meaningful debate on the matter.

But there is something scarier when our food is involved in the relentless race to become the biggest and the most profitable.

US automakee Chrysler has been bought by first by Daimler of Germany and then the Fiat of Italy, and the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has devoured three rivals in the last 15 years at a cost of $230 billion and those acquisitions have not made a major impact in our daily lives.

But when when Germany’s pharmaceutical and chemical giant Bayer makes a bid to buy Monsanto, North America’s biggest and most controversial agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology conglomerate, we should take a moment and think about what that might mean in the years to come in terms of not only our food security, but also the nature of the food we will have to consume.

How will this kind of integration affect the family farm in rural Alberta in about five to 10 years?

Under Bill C-18 adopted by the previous government, big multinational companies have already won the right to claim royalties from farmers multiple times when they use patented seeds even once. When one factors in the provisions in that legislation, how will a possible Bayer-Monsanto merger affect the income of the family farm growing canola in central Alberta ?

And more importantly, what if the new giant becomes so powerful to start to dictate what genetically modified seeds farmers will have to use a few years down the road?

How ready are we to accept the choices imposed by multinational corporations?

 

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