Crops

Elizabeth Warren Wants to Break Up Monopoly Seed Companies

The presidential hopeful doesn't realize that government biotech crop regulation helped to create the monopoly in the first place.

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KC McGinnis/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) was on the hustings in Iowa last week seeking caucus votes among the state's farmers. According to the The Washington Post, Warren called for breaking up Big Ag in the hope of appealing to her audiences.

Government statistics do show four companies now share 85 percent of the U.S. corn seed market, up from 60 percent in 2000, and 75 percent of the soybean seed market, up from about 50 percent in 2000. "Twenty years ago, 600 different outfits were selling seeds. Today, basically, it's six," Warren said.

The senator is not wrong about the steep decline in the number of seed companies. Throughout most of history, farmers chiefly saved their own seed and shared it with neighbors. That changed with the development of high-yielding hybrid corn in the early 20th century. Since hybrids don't breed true, farmers began buying their seeds from developers each year. Around 200 seed companies came into existence to supply the market for hybrid seeds before 1940.

Consolidation of the seed breeding industry began after the passage of the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) in 1970. Prior to the PVPA, the courts had ruled that life couldn't be patented. The PVPA created a voluntary program that conferred patent-like rights on seed developers, breeders, and owners of plant varieties. The goal was to encourage the development of new plant varieties by enabling breeders to recover research and development costs. Between 1970 and 1980, about 50 seed companies were acquired by chemical, food, and pharmaceutical firms.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that genetically modified bacteria could be patented and this extended to the genetically engineered products including crops. In the 1980s there were still some 200 independent seed companies, including many scores of biotech startups. A wave of mergers and acquisitions took off in the 1990s as firms like Monsanto and Syngenta transformed themselves into integrated life sciences companies.

Escalating costs due in part to regulation are part of what drove the consolidation of the seed industry that Warren is now decrying. By one estimate, it takes more than $130 million and 13 years to get a new biotech crop variety to farmers. Startup biotech companies cannot afford to shoulder those burdens. This resulted in six breeders eventually becoming the dominant sellers of genetically enhanced seeds and related agricultural chemicals to farmers. Farmers rapidly adopted the new biotech varieties and associated agronomic practices because of dramatic cost savings and benefits to the environment.

Warren's worries about Big Ag are a bit behind the times. Competiton from a new wave of crop breeding startups is already taking off. These startups are using safe and simple genome-editing techniques to speedily develop new crop varieties with improved nutritional, yield, and pest and disease resistance characteristics. And since the U.S. Department of Agriculture has ruled that its expensive and onerous regulations for earlier biotech crops do not apply to the genome-edited crops, the startups can get their seeds to farmers much faster and at less cost.

The best way for Warren to achieve the goal of reducing the market shares of the big biotech crop companies is to make sure that environmental activists don't succeed in preventing these new crop varieties from getting to farmers.

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42 responses to “Elizabeth Warren Wants to Break Up Monopoly Seed Companies

  1. …it takes more than $130 million and 13 years to get a new biotech crop variety to farmers.

    They have to make absolute certain that the corn won’t scream and fight you all the way down.

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  2. Just to save time: is there any industry that Warren doesn’t want to be placed under government control?

    1. Her kind of politicians. I have no idea under which conditions this applies to Hillary, Bernie, AOC, and other ostensibly similar socialists.

    2. On that note, Reason should just copy/paste “Elizabeth Warren has Another Bad, Stupid Idea” to the title of every article they write about this dumb bitch.

      1. I’ll go you one better:
        List of people not worth reading anything from or about:
        EW; SR; SD

  3. Elizabeth Warren Wants to Break Up Monopoly Seed Companies

    No she doesn’t. Why doesn’t she? Because:

    Government statistics do show four companies now share 85 percent of the U.S. corn seed market, up from 60 percent in 2000, and 75 percent of the soybean seed market, up from about 50 percent in 2000. “Twenty years ago, 600 different outfits were selling seeds. Today, basically, it’s six,” Warren said.

    There aren’t any monopoly seed companies to break up.

    Monopoly = 1 company that has 100% market share.

    Why do we continue to allow the economically illiterate to regulate our economy?

    1. Because a penny might fall out of the pockets as the running dog capitalists are hung from light posts.

  4. “Government statistics do show four companies now share 85 percent of the U.S. corn seed market”

    Her people call it Maize.

    1. She has no Taino in her.

    1. But what if it’s not? What if crony capitalism isn’t an accident, but something more like the natural tendency of capitalist systems?

      Or what if it’s *glances sideways and whispers* something more like the natural tendency of humans? What if… by putting watchers in charge of the watchers we aren’t fixing a system of crony capitalism but just creating a larger one?

      1. this is actually the beauty and genius of the founding fathers. not the system they developed. not the rules. not ‘democracy’ (you’ve never experienced it in raw form, most likely, any more than you’ve ever eaten food free of genetic manipulation). their innovation is the recognition that ANY concentration of power, government, any branch, corporate, da peepul, whatever, is a bad thing that leads to abuse. their innovation is to make the system so interdependent and hard to operate as to drive everyone crazy, but to REQUIRE intense commitment to cooperative and consensus decision making in order to do anything whatever. unfortunately, a few progressives figured out what they did, and have been trying to ‘streamline’ government ever since in order to create a power base for action. if they are allowed to succeed, it will go about as well as any other concentration of power – dictatorship, oligarchy, corporatism/mercantilism, mob rule. they are all bad – finding ways to consistently balance the various power bases to prevent concentration is the only solution.

    2. Corny capitalism surely is!

  5. Warren’s worries about Big Ag are a bit behind the times. Competiton from a new wave of crop breeding startups is already taking off. These startups are using safe and simple genome-editing techniques to speedily develop new crop varieties with improved nutritional, yield, and pest and disease resistance characteristics.

    But… GMOZ! FRANKENFOODS! HURP-DE-DERP-DER-DERPITY DERP!

    1. Warren will ban all of that scary innovation so that she can control the monopolies. Don’t you worry.

      1. Mother’s gonna keep baby cozy and warm

  6. There used to be hundreds of local neighborhood hardware shops. Now there are 2 big national chains and 1 smaller one (ACE) and a few more regional (Menards in KS for example).
    And yet it is cheaper and easier to do most home projects.
    Same for bookstores. And if your neighborhood bookstore didn’t carry the title you wanted (which unless it was a bestselling paperback, was likely) you had to special order it. Even before Amazon, there were Barnes and Noble and Borders, and you could find so many different titles it was incredible.

    Same BS, different day.

    1. Slightly different situations, though. Both the ones you cite are cases where size = economy of scale = giving consumers what they wanted at a price that drove competitors out of business.

      With the seed companies, it is a case of government regulation = driving smaller competitors out of business = consolidation into large companies that could afford the regulatory overhead = prices across the market with little elasticity due to the baked-in regulatory costs and lack of actual competition.

      Consolidation isn’t a bad thing for the consumer, it is the reason for the consolidation that matters and whether the net outcome is lower prices/greater consumer choice or flattened prices/restricted consumer choice.

      1. I don’t disagree with you at all. It is truly a juicy irony that a fan of the regulatory state argues for breaking up companies who were driven to consolidation due to some of the same regulations that she supports.

  7. How many different brands of seed does one farmer need?

  8. If she is so concerned about us plebes, why doesn’t she go after the eye glasses industry? According to a recent LA Times article it is “a near-monopolistic, $100-billion industry ? shamelessly abusing its market power.” and “Prescription eyewear represents perhaps the single biggest mass-market consumer ripoff to be found.” Talking about near monopoly, the article goes on to say that a single company, Luxottica, controls much (about 80%) of the eyewear market.
    Maybe because if she did “fix” it we would all see much more clearly through her BS.

    1. What about whataboutism?

    2. you got rused eric

      from snopes

      “Luxottica themselves sent us the following statement:

      According to VisionWatch, almost 50% of eyeglasses in the U.S. are sold by independent optometrists and opticians. The other half is made up of chain retailers that include Costco, Walmart, Solstice and other non-Luxottica entities.

      According to Euromonitor International, the world’s leading independent provider of strategic market research, 954 million frames were sold worldwide last year. Only 93 million of those were produced by Luxottica ? less than 10%.”

      1. yup, because one normally asks the suspected monopolist whether they are engaging in unfair business practices, rather than seeking independent information ?

        nicely conflated between “who produces” and “who sells” the product, with no indication at all as to who controls the sources of supply …

        1. I notice the conspicuous absence of anything like a source or info or anything other than you just not liking something.

          Post a source. Make a claim. No one cares about the rest of the shit you said.

          You got rused. Sorry you don’t like it.

  9. “The presidential hopeful doesn’t realize that government biotech crop regulation helped to create the monopoly in the first place.”
    EXACTLY!

  10. You never hear the Scolding Librarian decrying the rise of Big Government, and demanding it be broken up….

  11. I think I know why fewer men are having sex these days.

  12. I think I know why fewer men are having sex these days.

  13. Has this bitch ever actually done something useful instead of just coming up with one stupid idea after another to make people think she’s working or is even relevant!

  14. She wants to increase taxes, especially the inheritance tax and capital gains taxes. These both hurt farmers and ranchers especially (many farmers and ranchers buy hedges or futures markets as a tool to insure against commodity volatility). She supports the green new deal which will hurt farmers and ranchers. Yet she thinks breaking up the seed companies will help her get votes? Coastal elitism at it’s finest.

  15. And again the government tries to sell us crutches after breaking our legs

    1. if only. if they were trying to sell them in a competitive market, that might be ok. we’d likely get a better deal elsewhere, and then have crutches. no, they’re REQUIRING us to buy THEIR crutches after breaking our legs. and they make no guarantees as to quality or functionality, and claim ‘qualified immunity’ as the crutch producer so we can’t sue them.

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  17. Warren needs to focus her attention on Soylent Green – because, you know, it’s people.

  18. Suggest we start simple and try to find some natural market Democrats don’t want to manipulate.

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