September 02, 1999

World Seed Conference

Shrinking Club of Industry Giants Gather for Wake or Pep Rally?

An inauspicious gathering of the 1999 World Seed Conference takes place 6-8 September in Cambridge UK to mark the 75th anniversary of the international seed trade. RAFI takes this opportunity to release its 1999 update on seed industry consolidation. A shrinking number of colossal companies the Gene Giants - dominate global sales of seeds, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. 'Given the dramatic rate of consolidation in the global seed trade, membership is evaporating and all of the seed industry CEO s could probably meet for a weenie roast on someone s patio,' remarks Pat Mooney, Executive Director of RAFI, who is among the featured speakers at next week s World Seed Conference.

According to RAFI, the top five Gene Giants (AstaZeneca, DuPont, Monsanto, Novartis, and Aventis) account for nearly two-thirds of the global pesticide market (60%), almost one-quarter (23%) of the commercial seed market, and virtually 100% of the transgenic (genetically modified) seed market. 'The Gene Giants portfolio extends far beyond plant breeding,' explains Mooney, 'From plants to animals, to human genetic material the Gene Giants are fast becoming monopoly monarchs over all the life kingdoms,' said Mooney. Five years ago, none of top five Gene Giants appeared on the list of leading seed corporations. In fact, three of the top five companies didn t even exist (Zeneca + Astra merged to form AstraZeneca; Rhone Poulenc + Hoechst became Aventis; Ciba Geigy + Sandoz became Novartis. DuPont swallowed Pioneer Hi-Bred earlier this year).

A few short years ago, many would have predicted that the 1999 World Seed Conference would be a gala event to reap the profits and promise of genetically modified (GM) seeds. After all, sales of transgenic seeds grew twenty-fold from 1995-1998; analysts predicted industry revenues would surpass $3 billion in 2000 and explode to $25 billion in 2010. But much has changed in the past year. The Cambridge gathering is rapidly taking on the trappings of a wake, and the group might forego their patio picnic to hunker down in a bunker instead. The civil society organizations who plan to protest in Cambridge under the banner 'Seeds of Resistance,' will reinforce the message that GMOs are under siege.


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