A Brief Assessment of the Procompetitive Effects of Organizational Restructuring in the Ag-Biotech Industry
The agriculture sector has seen significant technological innovation and organizational change over the last two decades, leading to increases in both farm productivity and profitability. These scientific breakthroughs, most notably in crop protection science biotech seed traits and precision farming, were the result of substantial research and development (“R&D”) investment. Further, these technological breakthroughs were accompanied by organizational changes — e.g., increasing vertical and horizontal collaboration — that have enabled an increasingly complex industry to productively implement them.
In recent years the need to innovate has only increased. As technology in the sector continues to evolve, companies are increasingly adapting with structural changes to enable more effective R&D. These adaptations include increased collaboration between companies and, at times, integration of firms through mergers and acquisitions (“M&A”). This M&A activity has harmed neither competition, innovation, or investment by new entrants. In fact, combining businesses with complementary R&D has spurred innovation and accelerated the development and deployment of new products, one of the primary goals of the antitrust laws. Advances in biotechnology, crop protection science, and AgTech have provided farmers with increasingly sophisticated tools to meet the challenges of increasing demand for food and diminishing natural resources. Far from harming innovation, M&A activity in the agriculture industry has been accompanied by tremendous increases in R&D spending by existing and new companies and enhanced agricultural productivity.
Criticisms of agricultural industry M&A activity — and to the current, proposed Bayer-Monsanto and Dow-DuPont mergers in particular — are based on one or more of several common misconceptions about the industry, innovation, competition, and the deals themselves. This paper identifies and responds to several of those misconceptions, focusing in particular on the claims raised in a 2016 working paper produced by the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University, entitled Effects of Proposed Mergers and Acquisitions Among Biotechnology Firms on Seed Prices (“Texas A&M Report” or “Report”).1 Fundamentally, the Texas A&M Report incorporates flawed or incomplete antitrust law and economics in its condemnation of the pending mergers by alleging likely harms without considering their likely countervailing and procompetitive benefits. Further, the potential harms alleged are premised on unsound or outdated economic theory, or rooted in inconsistent or inaccurate characterizations of the deals, the industry, and its competitive dynamics. The Report’s substantial flaws make it an unsuitable guide to proper antitrust policy regarding the proposed deals.