Consolidation, contamination and loss of diversity: The biotech dream takes hold

Chapter 4: The life science concept — Consolidation in the agrochemical industries — Consolidation in the seed industry — Loss of agricultural diversity: Seminis and Savia — GM contamination: plot or blunder? The last decade of the twentieth century saw the agbiotech industry consolidate. Many of these companies also moved into the seed business, buying up companies worldwide. The increased integration of the agrochemical and seed industries into emerging biotech giants represented one aspect of the loss of diversity; the other was the dwindling of available seeds and agrodiversity, as companies dropped varieties from their catalogues. At the same time, however, biotech giants began projecting themselves as ‘life science’ companies – until it became clear that their new products were taking longer to come to market than had been hoped. Watching the companies merge, demerge, and create alliances is like watching poker players swap cards. Those outside the casino are entitled to wonder whether their needs are best served by this process. As the consolidation process continued, a new threat emerged, that of genetic contamination, as the constructs of the genetic engineers began to move through the food chain and the environment, posing particular threats to centres of diversity. The first such incident was the discovery of GM contamination of maize in its centre of origin, Mexico. The ensuing row brought contamination of an intellectual nature, with scientists allowing their judgement to be clouded by their dependence on funding. It has become apparent that the industry can benefit from the spread of contamination, if people feel unable to maintain their resistance in the face of a tide of pollution. Monsanto has shown how companies can directly benefit from contamination by successfully suing farmers for the adventitious presence of patented genes in their crops. [...]