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How consolidation in the seed industry is jeopardizing our future food supply

With mergers and acquisitions in the agriculture space over the past few decades, four agrochemical companies now control 60% of the global seed market, down from about 1,000 50 years ago.

Multinational firms — Corteva (CTVA), Bayer (BAYRY), BASF (BASFY) and ChemChina — dominate the seed market and as a result, control much of what we see and eat on our dinner plates. In an interview with Yahoo Finance’s On The Move, Dan Barber, co-founder of Row 7 Seed Company and chef and co-owner of the Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurants, spoke about his recent op-ed in the New York Times, outlining how consolidation in the industry limits food choices for consumers at a time when there is demand for diversity and a move toward organic foods.

“So there's this disconnect between what is driving people's palates and what is happening in the fields. This consolidation of the seed industry is cutting down on diversity,” said Barber. “These mega companies, seed companies, are not invested in deliciousness, they're not invested in ecological issues that we need to face in the future.”

Close-up of mid adult woman's palm with freshly harvested flower seeds

Producing food for a growing population

Barber concedes that it may be easier to feed the global population today, but with only four companies controlling the seed market it does present vulnerabilities. He is afraid of the future because as seed companies focus on their bottom lines and consolidate for cost-cutting measures they are producing more food in the short-term but they aren’t thinking about the long term.

“The ability to produce food for a growing population just weakens with less diversity, period,” he said. “You cannot grow one variety of one thing again and again. That's the law of nature. So you need this diversity.”

“The question is, are you destroying the natural resources that allow you to produce food into the future? And that's the big issue,” he added. “Looking forward to the future, when we see our ecological wealth deteriorate, we're going to see a lot more problems in our food system.”

For smaller farms the shift to less diverse crops is often a battle against larger, agrochemical companies which often file patents and lawsuits that ultimately box in the smaller seed companies to less diversity. “We're seeing more and more of these companies go after these patents aggressively. Both because they own it, also to scare other farmers away from indulging in the diversity that we've had for 10,000 years.” explained Barber.

Variety of dried fruit and nuts on a table in a old fashioned rustic kitchen

Millennials are the key to changing food culture

Barber believes change will come from consumers — not from Washington or the legal system. “I think you look to people who are demanding a different kind of food culture,” he said.

And who are the people demanding a different food culture? Millennials, said Barber, ”they want less processed food, they want more organic food. And that's going to require diversity, and that’s something these companies can't provide.”

”I see a changing culture that's in the United States that is rapid and very exciting,” he said. “If you're invested in good food, this is a very exciting time to be eating in the world of food culture.”

Yvette Killian is a producer for Yahoo Finance’s On The Move.


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