Black Farmers Warn: $1.5 Billion Biotech Merger a Cause for Concern
“Within America, Black people must develop in the area of agribusiness and show America a better diet. We must acquire fertile territory on which to harvest our produce. If people are to be healthy, they have to change their diet. When they change their diet, they need access to non-chemical, overly-processed food. The companies don’t have the incentive to teach right and do right by the American people. We must have land of our own from which we can produce the food and create the circumstances that will improve our condition and serve as an example for the rest of America and the world.” –from the book “A Torchlight for America,” written by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan
The National Black Farmers Association recently called for a boycott of the proposed $1.5 billion merger between agricultural giant Monsanto Company and the Delta Pine Land Company, the largest cottonseed company in the U.S., charging that the deal would reduce competition and adversely crush small farmers. According to Lee Quarles, a Monsanto spokesperson, the merger is a matter of choice. He insists that farmers in America, whether in the cotton belt or corn or soybean farms, have many options available, and does not believe that the proposed acquisition would change that.
Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association President Gary Grant recently granted Final Call Staff Writer Charlene Muhammad an interview highlighting why the deal warrants organized, unified opposition, and why Blacks should be concerned.
Final Call (FC): What specifically about the merger, currently under review by the Department of Justice, is concerning to you and why?
Gary Grant (GG): Anytime that big companies are merging and one company is becoming more controlling of the seeds [that produce] the food supply in this country, we all ought to be concerned about it. It raises grave concerns and many issues, because that puts one company pretty much in control of our lives.
FC: Do you believe that this merger is relegated solely to the food industry and a corporation’s wealth-building, or does this have any connection, as activists claim, to Western society’s move toward a “new world order”?
GG: Behavior modification through foods is definitely linked here because a purpose of a new world order would be a few companies and few people controlling the world supplies.
Unless people know what products Monsanto has on the grocery store shelf, how will you boycott? The farmers can boycott because they will be buying seeds. Also, it will take some organized effort, and even by some of our elected officials to look closer at this merger.
This kind of merger can lead to bread lines. Look at what’s happening with the gas companies and their prices going up–when you concentrate anything into the hands of 2-3 giant monopolies, you are not having control over your life. You have somebody else who is deciding, and you don’t know what’s being put into this food.
FC: Lee Quarles, a Monsanto spokesperson, said that through its work in seed genetics and biotechnology–both of which are scale neutral–whether a farmer plants one acre, half an acre or 10,000 acres, that farmer will net the same benefit. What are the ramifications of these higher yields?
GG: It’s unbelievable how they’re growing food, where one can garner the same amount of crops from one acre as you can from three. You get salmonella and food poisoning on spinach, and people are not asking how do you do that. They’re not even curious about how that’s happening. It’s all about this monopolistic, industrialization of food growing, and they’re trying to make a buck.
They’re spraying animal waste onto crops and then sending this food to markets. The animal waste is part of the fertilizer, which they call “organic” and “natural,” but something is wrong if you’re going to get sick from it. Additionally, there’s no process to remove the refuse, after they’re complete.
Blacks in this country have to begin to make the difference. We call ourselves African-American or Black, but we have a new generation here that did not go through slavery or the Jim Crow laws of this country. Those of us who did want to run away from what was good in small farming have control over our food supply, versus the current industrialization of animal growing, where you have 25,000 chickens inside a building, cramped on top of each other, eating out of the waste of each other.
FC: What is a basic level of change these types of mergers bring that Blacks should be aware of?
GG: When you had family farmers, we were getting as much food to the market as we’re getting now. It’s just that it was concentrated in fewer hands.
Today, our food is traveling an average of 1,500 miles to get to us. Why do we have to have food traveling that far to get to consumers? It’s certainly not because it is being grown in America, because they have just about brought to extinction the small family farmers in this country, and especially the Black ones. It’s still a part of our mentality that we don’t want to be associated with a farm, but we have to realize that everybody wasn’t a sharecropper; some people actually owned land. And those sharecroppers wanted to own land.
Our Black city cousins are trying to deny their heritage and refuse to sell their fraction of ownership to their country cousins, so this allows Monsanto and other major companies to buy up lots and companies and become more monopolistic.
FC: Thank you.
On Apr. 26 in Washington, D.C., Black farmers from around the country will rally and march in protest against the discriminatory practices of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). There, Black farm leaders will demand that the USDA grant a Farm Moratorium on foreclosures of Black farmers; the Justice Department and USDA reconsider some 70,000 Black farmer cases due to unlicensed attorney Margaret O’Shea; and call for Congress to pass legislation to compensate Black farmers.
This rally will also include important speakers from Black Farmers and Civil Rights organizations. For more information, contact Dr. John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association at (866) 881-4639, Mr. Grant at (252) 826-2800, or visit the websites www.blackfarmers.org or www.bfaa-us.org.