The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems on Friday presented a report in Rome warning that agri-food mega-mergers were sparking an unprecedented consolidation in seed, agri-chemical fertilizer, animal genetics and farm machinery industries while creating ever-bigger players in the processing and retail sectors across human food systems.
It also warned that big data technology had become a powerful new driver.
The Brussels-based IPES-Food multidisciplinary expert panel includes environmental scientists, development economists, nutritionists, agronomists and sociologists, as well as civil society and social movements.
Their report, titled "Too Big to Feed," suggests this consolidation across the agri-food industry, rather than leading food systems towards sustainability, only reinforces the logic of the industrial food and farming model and its widespread social, environmental, and economic fallout.
These mergers enable firms to pool their economic and political capital, reinforcing their ability to influence decision-making at national and international levels.
According to the report, dominant firms have become too big to feed humanity sustainably, too big to operate on equitable terms with other food system actors, and too big to drive the types of innovation needed.
The report's lead author, Pat Mooney, told EFE that large agro-food corporations were doing little towards creating a diversified, sustainable system capable of resisting the impact of global change.
Mooney stressed that the agro-food industry is channeling 45 percent of its research into a single crop, corn, while farmers continue dealing with over 7,000 different crop varieties.
In Mooney's opinion, corporations seek to control the food chain with this one-stop strategy due to market insecurity, changing consumer habits and the growing role of big data capable of influencing future consumer patterns, which would explain the recent acquisition by Amazon of the US Whole Foods Market organic supermarket chain.
Since 2015, a number of high-profile mergers and acquisitions have emerged in the agri-food sector, including the $130-billion merger between US agro-chemical giants Dow and DuPont; Bayer's $66-billion buyout of Monsanto, ChemChina's acquisition of Syngenta for $43 billion and its planned merger with Sinochem in 2018.
These deals alone will place as much as 70 percent of the agro-chemical industry in the hands of only three companies, thus cornering 60 percent of the global seeds industry and 75 percent of the pesticides market.
This consolidation across the agri-food sector has made the world's 570 million farms _ of which 30 percent are large-scale farms and 70 percent are smallholders _ increasingly more reliant on a handful of suppliers and buyers, squeezing their incomes and eroding farming choices: what to grow, how to grow it and for whom.