Let’s look at some of the giants in the food industry. Some names like Nestlé may be more familiar to you than, for example, Cargill, recently portrayed by Forbes Magazine as “the quiet giant that rules the food business“.
From the company’s website:
“Cargill is an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services. [...] In fiscal year 2011, Cargill had $119.5 billion in sales and other revenues.”
This makes Cargill, in terms of revenue, the largest privately held company in the world. As of 2011, if it were a public company, it would rank on the Forbes 500 behind AT&T and ahead of JP Morgan Chase. By being a privately held company it has to disclose less information, and it doesn’t have to report to shareholders. Hopefully this gives you an impression how powerful this company is.
The Wikipedia page lists under “Criticism”: Human rights abuse (of children on cocoa plantations), several cases of food contamination (the last in August 2011, when “36 million pounds of ground turkey produced at Cargill’s Springdale, Arkansas plant were recalled due to salmonella fears”), and environmental issues (deforestation).
ConAgra Foods, with the slogan “Food you love”, is an American packaged foods company. According to their website they are “Giving you more reasons to feel good about the food you love. [...] Good for You. Good for the Community. Good for the Planet.”
In the Wikipedia entry about ConAgra we read about environmental issues, labor issues, health violations (among them a recall of 19 million pounds of ground beef in 2002), illegal activity (water was sprayed on stored grain to increase weight and value, and Federal inspectors bribed), demolition of a historic site in Downtown Omaha, Nebraska, and lobbying against an Oregon measure that would have required foods containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled.
All of these three companies are using genetically modified organisms, and don’t even get me started on companies like Monsanto.
(By the way, do you know what the Nestlé slogan is? It’s “Good Food, Good Life”. Nestlé describes itself as “the world’s leading Nutrition, Health and Wellness company”. I think the slogan is very clever; note that it doesn’t say it’s you who should get the good food and good life! I have a feeling when you get Nestlé products it buys someone else some good food and good life.)
So what to make of all this? I just wanted to give you some examples and the idea that when protesting large banks it may be worthwhile to consider equally large, powerful, and profit-oriented food companies as well.
But isn’t it too much what we’re up against? In “Quantum of Solace”, James Bond wins (barely but surely) against the unscrupulous minds that set out to privatize water supplies. As Michael Clayton, George Clooney ensures (barely but surely) in the movie of the same name that a weed killer, known to be carcinogenic, is not being produced. What if we aren’t James Bond or Michael Clayton? Well here’s some good news: I think we actually are. Each and any of us has just as much power as the largest corporation, this is simply because they need customers. They can do many things, but the one thing they can’t do is exist without customers. No matter how large, any corporation will collapse without customers.
An end note – this just came in while I was writing this blog. All of the eggs used in McDonald’s restaurants in the US passed through Cargill’s plants. McDonald’s announced to end the relationship with Sparboe Farms, who are producing “2 million eggs a day, seven days a week”, due to a leaked tape of animal mistreatment. From the article:
McDonald’s and Target’s moves also followed a warning letter to Sparboe Farms dated Wednesday from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that said inspectors found “serious violations” at five Sparboe facilities of federal regulations meant to prevent salmonella. The warning said eggs from those facilities “have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health.”
“[...] whereby they may have become contaminated with filth [...]” Gotta love the language