When Monsanto buys into a market, they buy in big. In 2005, Monsanto’s seed/genetic trait holdings were primarily in corn, cotton, soybeans, and canola. That year, they purchased Seminis, the world’s largest vegetable seed company (see And We Have the Seed) specializing in seed for vegetable field crops. Now their takeover of the vegetable seed sector continues, as they have announced the intent to purchase the Dutch breeding and seed company, De Ruiter Seeds.

This purchase diversifies Monsanto’s seed holdings in vegetable field crops (Seminis) to “protected culture” fruits and vegetables (primarily tomatoes and cucurbits produced greenhouse, hothouse, etc). Analysts from Bank of America say that this gives Monsanto 25 percent of the world vegetable seed market, but I believe that this is a low estimate. (I contacted both Monsanto and the BofA analysts to ask for their data, but they did not respond to my emails.)

In 1998, according to their own figures, Seminis already controlled 26 percent of the overall global market in vegetable seeds, 39 percent of the U.S. market, and 24 percent of the European market. This is all vegetable seeds, but in their specialties — tomatoes, peppers, cucurbits — the percentage market share is much higher. A case filed against Seminis in 2000 by the U.S. government stated that they controlled 70 percent of the U.S. fresh tomato seed market (the case was regarding an anti-competition agreement that kept a Israeli company from competing in the U.S. tomato seed market. Syngenta initially lost in the federal district court case, but won in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit). And in 2005, at the time of the Monsanto acquisition of Seminis, I spoke with a tomato breeder for Seminis who estimated that they had 75 percent control of the overall U.S. market.

With the De Ruiter protected-culture varieties, they may hit 85 percent control of the total market — and that could increase, considering the trend in expansion of hothouse tomato production.

Hello, Department of Justice! Do we have an antitrust case now?

I know it’s not corn, but fresh market tomatoes (fresh, not including processing) was an industry worth over $4 billion (again, according to U.S. attorney general documents). Tomatoes were the ninth most important agricultural food products in 2005 (against animal products) and the fourth of non-animal food crops, after corn, soybeans, and wheat.

De Ruiters is a Dutch company, so I believe the sale is outside of U.S. DOJ jurisdiction. The Directorate General for Competition of the E.U. will likely not interfere, as Monsanto doesn’t own enough of the E.U. vegetable seed sector. There remains no cohesive international method for regulation on a global scale, which is wonderful for these global corporate firms.

One company with this much control in one of the largest agricultural markets in the U.S.? Some economists use “The Rule of 3” — there needs to be a minimum of three competing companies, or a monopoly exists. There are certainly more than two other tomato seed companies out there, but with what kind of market share? Do any of them have 10 percent? What about 5 percent? If not, how can they be seen as competitors to Monsanto’s vegetable seed sector? The rest of the market is a quilt of tiny companies in comparison to what Monsanto has created in under three years with a handful of quick and unregulated acquisitions. Added to their concentrations in commodity crops, and given that food production starts with the seed, there should be no question of who controls our food supply. The only question is, will we do something about it?