EDITORIAL: Agricultural landscape merging quickly

Agriculture’s new mega-corporation brings together two giants who have for many years shaped what we eat, the drugs we take and how we grow our own food.

German-based chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer has created the world's largest supplier of seeds and farm chemicals by offering $88billion for American agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto.

The most interesting part of the purchase is Germany has opted out of cultivating GMO crops on its territory, citing the possibility GMO plants risk contaminating local crops.

Both companies have a colourful history of mergers and the marketing of vastly different products.

Bayer hit the headlines when it introduced and trademarked “heroin” as a medicine for coughs 120 years ago. It used forced labour as a Nazi contractor in World War II as part of IG Farben, and is currently driven to dominate current chemical and drug markets.

Monsanto’s biggest draw card when it began early last century was the artificial sweetener saccharin, before producing plastics, DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange and the popular herbicide Roundup.

It was among the first companies to modify a plant cell and conduct field trials of genetically modified crops 30 years ago. By the start of this century it had shifted its focus from chemicals to biotechnology.

Monsanto changed the way agriculture business is run, investing heavily in research and development and later recouping costs through the use and enforcement of biological patents.

At one point the company even created its own town in Illinois as a way to offer minimal regulation and low taxes to its chemical plants.

Absorbing companies along the way, it even worked on the Manhattan Project nuclear bomb by producing polonium.

The huge Monsanto and Bayer deal is the largest of a few landscape changes, with American giants Dow Chemical and DuPont Pioneer saying last year they would merge and split into three entities, including one offering seeds and chemicals.

China National Chemical Corp. earlier this year bid $43billion for Swiss seeds and pesticides company Syngenta.

Agriculture’s top seed and chemical producers may be sleeping in the same garden bed for now, but will it last?

CHANGE: German chemical company Bayer will take over US seed giant Monsanto to become one of the world's biggest agriculture conglomerates. Picture: Bloomberg

CHANGE: German chemical company Bayer will take over US seed giant Monsanto to become one of the world's biggest agriculture conglomerates. Picture: Bloomberg

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