E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


Public vs. private seed ownership

(Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2003 -- CropChoice news) --

DES MOINES (DTN) -- The revolution in ownership of germ plasm, the feature of cells that determines the characteristics of offspring, is moving rapidly toward concentration in a few hands, said ISU agriculture economist Neil Harl at a recent one-day seminar in Ames, Iowa.

Harl and other agriculture experts discussed the growing trend of concentration, where only a handful of mega firms control both input and output in the ag sector. Harl identified the concentration of the seed supply as one of the major problems facing independent farmers today. He cited several examples of how large companies have merged to gain complete control of seed genetics, including the high-profile merger between DuPont and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the Monsanto acquisition of DeKalb and the formation of Syngenta by Novartis and Astra Zeneca. These mergers show how the ownership and control of genetic material in crops are falling into the hands of a few economically powerful players, Harl said.

"Increased concentration is also leading to control by a few firms over the major processes by which genetic manipulation occurs, thus enabling those controlling the technologies to block use by other firms," he said.

The new trend is partly due to the changing role of land grant universities, partly to the ability to manipulate germ plasm through genetic engineering and partly to the consequences of the ability to obtain a monopoly-like position over unique life forms and over the process of genetic manipulation, he said.

For decades, land grant universities developed the basic genetic lines of crops and made those lines available to the seed industry, Harl said. However, limitations on university funding and the near-revolution in genetic engineering caused private companies to begin pouring more money into basic research.