Big mergers should continue to concern farmers paying attention

USDA arch in Washington, D.C.
USDA Photo by Preston Keres

While we watch the cat-juggling carnival that is Washington, D.C. these days, real fake news experts — yes, there are experts in real fake news — are artfully mixing fact with myth to influence how Big Biotech’s mergers and buyouts play out in American agriculture.

The biggest merger, Dow and DuPont’s $150-billion hook-up, was completed last August. Another big one, Bayer and Monsanto’s $66-billion marriage, remains on hold.

Farmers, too, are in limbo although most suspect the buyouts will limit choices and increase prices of already-costly biotech seeds and corresponding chemicals. Confirmation of their worries appears to come from Syngenta, the Swiss-based biotech giant, and its cloudy connections to a farmer advocacy group now lobbying the White House against the Bayer/Monsanto deal.

If true — and strong circumstantial evidence suggests it is — that’s a problem because Syngenta is owned by ChemChina, a China-owned state enterprise, and federal law prohibits foreign governments from lobbying U.S. officials.

Market policies

The tale began in mid-December when a group calling itself Farmers and Families First, was formed to “advocate for free-market-based policies to help the American farmers who grow our nation’s food and help the American families who consume that food.”

The group, which lists no office, address, telephone number or contact person on its website, named an “Advisory Board” who, according to its own descriptions, includes growers, farm group representatives, two “advocates,” and one “backyard poultry farmer.”

Its key project, however, was a glossy, 24-page white paper titled, “A Bayer-Monsanto Merger Will Raise the Price of Agricultural Inputs, Reduce Seed Choices and Increase Costs for U.S. Farmers.”

The report, filled with warm photos of farmers and families alike, is a sophisticated, detailed market analysis of the national and international consequences that a completed Bayer-Monsanto deal will bring, the group claims.

Kill the deal

Section titles like “Anticompetitive Market Control,” “Vertical Monopoly through Tying & Bundling,” and “Reduced Innovation” make little secret of the report’s main message: U.S. farmers should tell Washington to kill this deal.

“Merging the world’s largest seed seller (Monsanto) to a company that is also the world’s largest agrochemical seller (Bayer),” it noted, “would only enhance its ability to raise agricultural input prices and engage in anti-competitive behavior using a variety of strategies Monsanto has employed in the past.”

Nothing in its many pages, photos, and 112 footnotes, however, offered one clue as to who wrote it, paid for it, put together the loose advisory panel or was pushing it in print and online. A hint of authorship did appear in a Feb. 17 story in the Washington Examiner, a conservative weekly newspaper published in the nation’s capital.

The newspaper connected Farmers and Families First to DDC Public Affairs, a Washington, D.C. company that, notes on its website, “… has been helping clients navigate complex legislative, regulatory and policy issues … (to) sway public opinion and affect the political landscape.”

According to the Examiner, the key political landscape DDC Public Affairs has been trying to “affect” lately lies just two blocks from its office, The White House. In a February ad campaign broadcast on Fox News, Farmers and Families First called on “President Trump to ‘stand with America’s farmers and please stop the Monsanto merger’ (because) … Trump voters … are ‘overwhelmingly’ opposed to the merger.”

What DDC Public Affairs never broadcast, noted the Examiner, is that it “has long worked with Syngenta, a Swiss pesticide and seed company now owned by ChemChina.”

Behind the scenes

As such, “it’s reasonable to ask whether the Chinese competitors of Bayer AG and Monsanto aren’t … behind this campaign to scuttle the merger.”

In fact, it’s more than reasonable because, as the Examiner explained, “If it can be established that Farmers and Family (sic) First is merely a front group for ChemChina, then DDC should probably be required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”

That’s a brilliant idea because, after all, enforcing our laws and preserving the integrity of our markets are two key jobs our representatives, senators, and president were elected to do.

Here’s another idea for them: lose the cat-tossing routine before November’s job review. It’s tiring and they’ve lost their audience. At least in the U.S.


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