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April 17th, 2013

Before You Plant, Know Your Seeds

By Anna Ghosh

Whether you’re a full-time farmer or an indoor herb gardener, the spring planting season is in full swing. But where do the seeds that get planted come from? When we think about consolidation in the food system, retailers like Walmart or mega junk food manufacturers like PepsiCo come to mind. But the corporate consolidation and control of our food supply literally begins at its inception with seeds.

This hasn’t always been the case. As recently as 20 years ago, local, independent seed companies thrived. There used to be 300 seed companies but now there are only 150 that are independently owned and Monsanto and DuPont control most of the supply.

Farmers are dependent on a smaller number of firms for seeds, and the prices have risen sharply as the market has become more concentrated. A few major chemical and pharmaceutical giants that patent specific traits in seeds and charge fees to farmers who use their patented seeds now dominate the seed industry, which once relied on universities for most research and development.

Between 1996 and 2007, Monsanto, the largest supplier of GE seed traits, acquired more than a dozen smaller companies, and it now controls 60 percent of corn and 62.5 percent of soybean seeds and seed trait licenses in the United States.

Monsanto’s vegetable seed subsidiary, Seminis, is one of the largest seed distributors and has been acquiring seed companies since the mid-1990s. Monsanto acquired Seminis in 2005.

In addition to the many seed companies that are partially or fully owned by Monsanto and Seminis, some seed companies distribute Seminis products, along with other companies’ products. This does not mean that Seminis or Monsanto owns these companies, nor do they necessarily supply GE vegetables — Seminis has many products that are conventionally bred hybrid varieties. But they do bring Seminis products to the market.

Want to know if Monsanto owns the company you buy your seeds from? Check out our fact sheet here:

Listen to Margaret Roach give tips for sourcing ethical seeds:

And get the nitty gritty details about the rise of the biotech industry and how it gets away with patenting life for profit and dominates our seed supply in Wenonah Hauter’s book, Foodopoly, here:


5 Comments on Before You Plant, Know Your Seeds

  1. Diane Bailey says:

    Now expose the owners of the companies!

  2. Sandi Walters says:

    Ive bought seed from catalogs through the mail for 40 years. I ‘ve noticed lots of changes along the way.I would love to know the real masters behind the scenes of these old companies. Some seem to have formed something collective that effects the pricing and varieties offered. I want that information if you have it…..our vegetable gardens are really important to our family. I am also very dubious about the lableing word organic. Thank you for what you do.

  3. Robert says:

    so WHERE do we get better seeds??

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