Farmers and scientists intimidated. Groundwater contamination. Human health risks. The decimation of one of America’s most iconic wildlife species. These are just some of the problems we’ve seen thanks to Monsanto, the world’s dominant producer of genetically modified crops, and Syngenta, a Swiss chemical company that manufactures controversial agricultural poisons. As an NPR story noted on Aug. 17, Monsanto wants to merge the two companies, a proposal that raises troubling questions about industry influence and impacts on our health and natural resources.
Monsanto first approached Syngenta with a merger proposal in 2014, but the talks fell apart when Syngenta backed away over antitrust issues. So far in 2015, Syngenta has resisted merger overtures because company officials don’t think Monsanto is currently offering enough money to make combining forces worthwhile.
A Monsanto-Syngenta merger would further concentrate corporate power.
Allowing the two companies to become one might not create an instant agribusiness monopoly, but it would likely give the merged corporation unfair advantages over competitors and drive others to pursue mergers of their own. It would also allow Monsanto to avoid at least $1.5 billion in U.S. taxes if it chose to “invert” and reincorporate in Syngenta’s home country of Switzerland.
Monsanto claims it would sell off some parts of the merged company to competitors like Bayer, another chemical company, but it’s unclear how this would reduce concerns over the concentration of corporate power, especially in the chemical industry. Monsanto is already known as a corporate “bully,” demanding royalties on its patented, genetically modified seeds and reserving the right to sue farmers if the company’s crops inadvertently contaminate neighboring fields (although Monsanto claims it would never do this).
Syngenta, too, has a reputation for pushing people around. For example, it was accused of trying to silence a researcher who has raised concerns about atrazine, Syngenta’s most widely used herbicide and a common groundwater contaminant in the United States.
The two corporations don’t only throw their weight around in the courts and through campaigns against scientists. Between 2010 and 2014, Monsanto spent more than $31 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies, and Syngenta spent roughly $6.5 million lobbying during that time. A combined company would almost certainly continue pouring money into our political process and pressuring agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on U.S. chemical policy.
Both companies market products that may put human health at risk.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, was recently deemed a “probable” cancer-causing chemical by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Syngenta’s atrazine is a known hormone disruptor, though its human health impacts remain unclear.
It’s unknown how the two companies’ chemical products interact with each other or with other pesticides when present in the body at the same time. However, scientists are increasingly raising the alarm about the potential cumulative effects of repeated exposure to multiple toxic chemicals.