Rally around Drogheda Six

THERE’S a new Big Six in the grain market, after the Irish Competition Authority’s successful court case against half a dozen farmers, following an investigation into the IFA’s alleged “cartel” activities.

The world grain trade is famous for being controlled by six companies Cargill, Continental, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge and Born, André, and Archer Daniels Midland/Töpfer.

But Fintan Conway, Ruaidhri Deasy, Colm McDonnell, Raymond O'Malley, George O'Brien, and Patrick Harrington look like the new kids on the block, after their conviction in a case stemming from an IFA protest by farmers at Drogheda Port 19 months ago, which prevented the unloading of a cargo of grain.

If the Irish Competition Authority is not careful, it could make heroes of the Drogheda Six for the 375,000 pig farmers who disappeared in the US since 1982, as the world's biggest grain and feed companies took over pig production into their own hands.

The six Irish grain growers could also become pin-ups for the millions of farmers in the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, and Argentina who have been wiped out, because big business - including the Big Six of grain - paid them less than the production cost of their crops, not to mind leaving a fair profit.

Lack of bargaining power with huge food processing companies has bedeviled farmers around the world, ever since they first started producing more than they needed to feed their family.

So it comes as a major surprise now that individual farmers, rather than the world's biggest corporations, could be suspected of denying consumers the benefits of full competition.

Farmers who feel insignificant beside the multinational food companies they do business with can take heart to see their Irish colleagues advancing to the point where they fall foul of a Competition Authority - especially when this arose in the grain sector, where farmers are crying out for some opposition to Cargill and Continental's 45 to 50% stranglehold of the world's trade, and for someone to take on the four companies which own 59% of all American grain elevator facilities.

But the Drogheda Six would have a very long way to go before they approach Cargill's annual sales of E49 billion.

Still, they have to start somewhere, even if it is a defeat at the hands of the Competition Authority.

The MacMillans and Cargill; the Fribourgs; the Louis Dreyfus family; the André family; and the Hirsch and Born families had to start at the bottom too but they have had a century or two to get well established in business ahead of the Drogheda

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