WASHINGTON, D.C. — A group representing farmers, consumers and environmentalists were turned away from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on Nov. 14, as they attempted to deliver a petition with more than 1 million signatures calling on the government to block the $66 billion mega-merger of St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. with German chemical giant Bayer AG.
According to a spokesperson for the group, the DOJ would not accept the petitions at the agency’s downtown headquarters. So, they were mailed to Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general of the agency’s antitrust division, and to Sarah Isgur Flores, head of its public affairs.
The Bayer-Monsanto deal is under review by the department’s antitrust regulators and in Europe and elsewhere. Company officials say they hope to close the deal in the first quarter of 2018.
Earlier in the day, the petitioning group released a critical analysis of the merger titled Bayer-Monsanto Merger: Big Data, Big Agriculture, Big Problems. It was prepared by the Open Markets Institute, Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs, and examines “farmer choice and how the deal may alter competition.”
At an event at the National Press Club, members of the group joined a panel of experts from the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, the National Family Farm Coalition and the United Stockgrowers of America to discuss the report, which explores in-depth the farm industry and consumer implications of “Big Data” collections of chemical and seed platforms owned by Bayer and Monsanto if the merger is approved.
“This is a merger made in hell,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “If the deal is approved, the new company would be the world’s largest vegetable seed company, world’s largest cottonseed company and the world’s largest manufacturer and seller of herbicides.
“With all this farm data, the merger would extract more profits out of farmers. Bayer and Monsanto’s toxic mega-merger is a danger to our planet and everyone living on it.
“Over 1 million Americans,” he added, “have called on the Department of Justice to protect our farmers and families from the consolidation of corporate power. Bayer and Monsanto’s merger is a direct threat to the future of people and our environment.”
Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, said if the merger moves forward, “77 percent of the corn seed in American would be controlled by the two companies.
“It’s the worst merger in American history,” he said. “There is no doubt that prices will increase. Consumers are always better off with competition. Competition can work. It’s bad policy that hurts competition.”
Cooper authored a 29-page study titled Mega-Mergers in the U.S. Seed and Agrochemical Sector, the Political Economy of a Tight Oligopoly on Steroids and the Squeeze on Farmers and Consumers.
“The merger,” he said, “represents a dramatic increase in the market power of a sector that is already a ‘highly concentrated, vertically integrated tight oligopoly on steroids’ that raises prices, distorts innovation and squeezes farmers and consumers.
“The only answer to this merger that makes economic sense is a loud and clear ‘NO!’”
Joe Maxwell, executive director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, said, “The opportunity for every farmer, every business and every entrepreneur to have a fair shot at an open and just market is the core principle that built America and its people’s prosperity. Our government’s unwillingness to enforce our anti-monopoly laws and allow these mega-mergers to go forward is threatening our very democracy.”
Monsanto did not respond on the petition effort, but said in an email to Farm World: “Through this deal, we look forward to accelerating much needed innovation, optimizing the tools farms have on their farms and expanding all of the offerings that will be available through broad licensing in the years to come.
“From delivering new choices even faster to expanding current solutions, this combination will support growers in their efforts to be more productive, more profitable and more sustainable. Bayer and Monsanto are two very different but highly complementary companies.”
A spokesman for the DOJ declined comment.