Montioring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
                                                A.V. Krebs  Editor\Publisher

Issue #104                                                                           February 16, 2001


After questioning 10,000 corporate executives and securities analysts Fortune Magazine’s March 5 edition has announced the mind boggling results of its "America's Most Admired Companies” survey which ranks Tyson Foods, IBP Inc., Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Seaboard, Gold Kist, and Chiquita Brands International in its top ten food production category.

According to the magazine the list “is the definitive report card on corporate reputations.”

Those polled were asked to consider eight criteria, including management quality, product quality, innovativeness, investment value, financial soundness, talent, social responsibility and use of assets.

IBP ranked number four in the survey finishing in the top five in each of the eight categories.  "I have always said IBP has one of the best management teams in the food business," according to Robert L. Peterson, IBP chairman and chief executive officer.  "This ranking affirms my belief.  I am very proud of our employees and the success this company continues to experience because of their efforts."
ADM (”Supermarkup to the World”), which finished fifth in the poll placed in the top five in the product quality, innovativeness, investment value, financial soundness and talent (????) categories.

None of the food production companies, however, ranked in the top 100 U.S. corporations. The winners were chosen from the 1,000 largest U.S. companies (ranked by revenues) and the 25 largest U.S.subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies. The companies were then sorted by industry and then the ten largest in each industry were selected to constitute 61 industry groups.

To create the top ten list, Clark Martire & Bartolomeo (CM&B) asked 10,000 executives, directors, and securities analysts to select the five companies they admired most, regardless of industry. The group was told to choose from a list containing the companies that ranked among the top 25% in last year's survey; the list also included companies that ranked below the first quartile overall but finished in the top 20% of their industry.

The top ten companies in food production were:

1. Suiza Foods                   6.70
2. Tyson Foods                  6.37
3. Dean Foods                   6.35
4. IBP Inc.                         6.07
5. ADM                            6.02
6. Seaboard                       5.33
7. Gold Kist                       5.11
8. Chiquita International       4.61
9. Agway                           4.40
10. Imperial                        4.29

Readers of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER can find evaluations of most of these company’s corporate behavior by entering the corporate name in the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project’s web site search engine at:


Vowing that the Virginia Cooperative Extension Services firing of Stafford County agent Dennis Bishop and his subsequent pillorying, Kent Willis, Virginia director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has charges that the state's recent response to his client's law suit will have no impact on the charges made in the suit.

Bishop, according to Extension service attorneys, while damaging the program's credibility by submitting an August 31, 2000 letter-to-the-editor (see text below) to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star criticizing traditional farming methods and in response to an August 13 opinion piece by Dennis Avery critical of organic farming, was not the reason he lost his job.

Papers filed in U.S. District Court in response to Bishop's law-suit seeking reinstatement claim that his performance so deteriorated in the month following his annual evaluation that he would have been terminated even without publication of the letter to the editor.

Bishop's "publication of the letter is one example of [his] violation of the terms of his employment in that it had the effect of adversely affecting the mission of the Virginia Cooperative Extension in providing competent educational and technical assistance . . .  in matters relating to horticulture, agriculture and management of natural resources," Senior Assistant Attorney General Guy W. Horsley Jr. wrote in his January 22 response  to the ACLU lawsuit.

The Virginia ACLU filed suit on December 13 against Virginia Cooperative Extension officials and Virginia Tech, which administers the extension program. The federal suit claims Bishop was fired in retaliation for his published letter and seeks his reinstatement on the grounds that his free-speech rights were violated.

The response from the Virginia Attorney General's Office states that extension agents have a duty to advise farmers and others in the traditional agricultural community and that Bishop showed a "pattern of ignoring and violating the clear expectations of the terms of his employment," thus justifying his reassignment.

But as The Free Lance-Star’s Pamela Gould reports,  Bishop claims he was never told of any problems with his performance or attitude and that he wrote the letter from his home and did not identify himself as an extension agent.

Bishop also received a favorable first-year evaluation from his immediate supervisor on August 14. On September 11, Northern District Director Beverly Butterfield notified him he was being placed in a terminal six-month position.

Cooperative Extension officials admit his personnel file does not contain any complaints or reprimands. "My opinion is they went digging for dirt after the letter to the editor," Bishop told Gould.

Bishop was hired as an environmental horticulturist for Stafford County in August 1999. In his first year, he helped launch the popular First Saturdays in the Garden program and worked with Downtown Greens Community Gardens, gaining a loyal following among local gardeners, who protested his dismissal. After being transferred to the temporary position, Bishop submitted a one-month notice and resigned in October. He now works on the grounds staff at Mary Washington College.

Readers who may wish to address letters and comments on Bishop’s case are urged to contact:

* Honorable James S. Gilmore, Governor of Virginia, 804-786-2211  State Capitol Building, Third Floor, Richmond, Virginia 23219. E-Mail via web
* Charles W. Steger, President, Virginia Tech Institute and State University,  804-231-6000 .
* Names of Regents, Governors: &
* ACLU Voice Mail: 804-644-8080.
* Letters to Bishop & the News Editor, Fredericksburg Free Lance Star, Chris Muldrow:


Traditional Farming is Unnatural,
A Rape of the Earth
(Fredericksburg, Virginia, 31 August 2000)

Being neither an organic farmer nor a student of organic agriculture, I feel unqualified to respond to the specifics of Dennis Avery's recent bashing of organic farming ["Natural food not always a safer choice," August 13, 2000]. However, I am a horticulturist and I am greatly concerned about the doomed road that traditional, chemical agriculture has taken in its relationship with the Earth.

Traditional, chemical agriculture is doomed because it has plowed through the Earth without giving thought to where it is going; and it is doomed because it has used and raped the Earth unceasingly without giving back. How long can any relationship endure which gives little thought to its course and uses and abuses the other party without giving back?

Nature knows what is best for herself; therefore, every honest discussion of this topic should start by accepting that all agricultural practices are unnatural and are detrimental to the health of the Earth's ecosystem. Nature does not devise monocultures of any kind-never planting anything in a row. If nature had her way, there would be no vineyards, no orchards and certainly no corn fields, but there would be manure, compost and many natural toxins. These elements are all part of a system that renews the Earth and provides the checks and balances of a healthy planet.

Therefore, despite my ignorance, I take the side of the organic growers. They give greater thought to maintaining a healthy planet; for example, they practice the use of green-manure crops to renew the soil. Organic growers give thought to where they are going and they give back.

Dennis G. Bishop
Stafford, Virginia, USA


“The myth that organic farming is toxics-free should be buried forever. The American public has been misled through poor reporting and aggressive marketing schemes to believe organic is 'pesticide-free' and safer for human and ecological health," so claims Alex Avery, author of the recent Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues report, "Nature's Toxic Tools: The Organic Myth of Pesticide-Free Farming,"

According to Avery’s study a shift to organic farming methods could increase pesticide use by hundreds of millions of pounds per year. Representing less than one percent of total agriculture, his research research reveals that even a marginal increase of land placed under organic farming methods could result in significant increases in use of persistent and toxic "organic" pesticides such as sulfur, copper and other natural chemicals allowed in organic production.

The "natural" pesticides used by organic farmers are among the most heavily used, toxic, and persistent in American agriculture today, Avery argues,  and a mandate for organic-only farming would lead to massive increases in pesticide use, soil contamination, and topsoil loss. The result would be a major decrease in the sustainability of American agriculture, his report points out.

He concludes that:

* Organic pesticides are the most heavily used pesticides in the United States

* One organic insecticide accounts for more than half of all U.S. insecticide use

* One organic fungicide accounts for more than half of all U.S. fungicide use

* Switching to all organic production would result in up to a 700% increase in U.S. fungicide use

* An all-organic mandate would lead to a massive increase in soil erosion and reduced sustainability

* U.S. regulators have no information at all on the use of most organic pesticides, despite the fact that millions of pounds of these toxic pesticides are used in the United States every year

At this moment of critical debate about the health and environmental benefits of conventional farming and genetically improved crops, Avery postulates, “organic farming is being promoted as the ideal alternative. The reality is organic is less understood, untested and potentially riskier for both people and the environment.”


Responding to Alex Avery’s recent Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues report, "Nature's Toxic Tools: The Organic Myth of Pesticide-Free Farming” (see above story), John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri, Columbia, comments:

Yes, organic farming does rely on lots of "natural" elements, such as copper and sulfur, to nurture their crops. Organic farmers also rely much more heavily on organic matter in the soil, which is actually rotting plants and animals infested with fungus, bacteria, and other things which could cause sickness and death in humans.

Also, organic farming depends far more on harvesting solar energy, and the sun can cause skin cancer and is an obvious contributor to global warming and other environmental problems.  Organic farming actually "encourages" the maintenance of populations of all sorts of insects under the guise of nurturing natural predators to control pest insects.

In fact, organic farmers actually oppose the complete eradication of some of the most destructive pests ever know, such as the bowl weevil. They prefer pest management to pest eradication.  In addition, organic farmers actually insist of producing "inferior" varieties of crops and livestock that "real farmers" abandoned years ago, and even cultivate many plants that "real farmers" consider to be "weeds."

We are probably never going to be able to create an absolutely sterile environment, where we can ensure that genetically designed plants and animals are exposed only to nutrients, antibiotics, and growth stimulants that have been engineered and manufactured to carefully control their reproduction, growth, and development until we get rid of organic farmers.

Let's get real! Only the completely uninformed, or intentionally misguided, would interpret the simple fact that organic farming uses more total types  and tonnage of all sorts of "natural" things to help tip the balance of  nature to produce more of those things that are most useful to humans, rather than attempt to create some antiseptic artificial environment in which to manufacture foods, somehow means that organic farming represents a greater risk to the natural environment and human health than does farming with genetically manipulated crops and livestock, manufactured chemical plant foods, souped-up hormones, artificial growth stimulants, and poisons designed to kill every living thing that grows other than the plant or animal of choice.

Let's use a bit of common sense!  No true organic farmer will allow his or her soil to erode at any rate beyond the absolute minimum possible.  They may cultivate for weed control but they use crop rotations, cover crops, contour farming, strip cropping, and other soil conserving methods, because a healthy, productive soil is the fundamental foundation for organic farming.

What about organic livestock and poultry?  Grass is a lot more practical and less costly than organic feed grains, and a well managed pasture erodes at rates far less than even the most carefully conservation-tilled corn or soybean field.  A conventional farmer can limp along from year to year with an eroded and worn out soil by applying all sorts of chemical fertilizers and carefully chosen trace elements.  An organic farmer without a good layer of healthy, productive soil is simply out of business.  Organic farmers build soil, they don't waste it.

Only the completely uninformed, or intentionally misguided, would assume that the difference in soil loss between conventional farming and organic farming can be estimated by simply calculating the difference between no-till, chemical farming and plow/cultivate conventional farming.  Organic farmers know that they have to save the soil to save their livelihood, chemical farmers have not yet learned that lesson.

In the case of studies produced by the Averys and the Hudson Institute, it doesn't take much intelligence to discern whether such a study represents a complete misunderstanding of the facts or is instead intentionally  misguided. People are wising up to the threats of high-input, industrial farming to human health and the natural environment, and consumer demand for organic products is growing by leaps and bounds.  Those whose livelihood is dependent on promoting chemically intensive farming and biotechnology are desperately grasping for any straw they can find ---- even if it is the last straw for a way of farming that no longer makes sense.


“To deny desperately hungry people the means to control their futures by presuming to know what is best for them is not only paternalistic but morally wrong," Hassan Adamu, Nigeria's ex-minister of agriculture and rural development, wrote in a recent op-ed piece in The Washington Post.

Also, the New York Times Andrew W. Pollack has pointed out that with opponents of agricultural genetic engineering urging the Kenyan government to reject corn donated by the United States and Canada,  because some of it was genetically modified, poses a troubling question  ---- are opponents so against it that they are willing to let people die?

“Indeed,” Pollack reports, “the critics, most of whom live in wealthy countries, are increasingly being called imperialists for opposing a technology that could be used to develop improved crops for poor nations.”

“For us to take an attitude that these farmers are gullible and ignorant and we have to take care to protect them from Western influences is absurd," said C. S. Prakash, a professor at Tuskegee University who is developing genetically modified crops for the third world. He accuses biotech opponents of romanticizing the old ways that left people in poor health and abject poverty.

But as critics of genetically engineered crops emphasize, corporate agribusiness’s efforts to focus on hunger rather than safety is being designed to help the beleaguered biotechnology industry in that it emphasizes the potential benefits, not the risks while using the poor to justify selling their products to the rich.

When the United States sent corn and soy meal to India after a 1999 cyclone that killed 10,000 people, Vandana Shiva , a long-time prominent biotech critic in that country accused Washington of using the cyclone victims as "guinea pigs" for bio-engineered food.

“The feeding-the-world argument is a very carefully engineered P.R. exercise to create some moral legitimacy for this technology," Brian Halweil, an analyst at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington is quoted as observing in Pollack’s report. Halwell also rightfully points out that the industry concentrates on crops like herbicide-resistant soybeans for farmers in the Midwest, not drought-tolerant millet for subsistence farmers in Africa.

While not all critics want to stop biotechnology --- some just want to increase testing and regulation (see below) --- most critics contend that genetic engineering won't alleviate hunger in the first place for the world already produces enough food (4.3 pounds per day for every man, woman and child on earth), they say, but the poor can't afford to buy it, noting that peasant farmers in India have destroyed fields of genetically engineered crops, so it is not only well-fed environmentalists who oppose them.

Biotechnology companies "don't really want to get to the crux of the matter, which is about control of the food system," said Anuradha Mittal, co-director of Food First,  a food-policy research institute in Oakland, California

As Pollack reports, “many critics see biotechnology as the latest incarnation of corporate agriculture, which is heavily dependent on pesticides and which replaces diverse crops with single varieties. Such an approach, they say, is antithetical to lower-tech sustainable farming practices, like better crop rotations, which in some cases can produce dramatic gains at lower cost.

“There is also a fear that poor farmers, who often save seeds from one year's crop to plant the next, will have to buy expensive biotech seeds every year, making them dependent on multinational companies or driving them off their land if they cannot afford the costs,” he adds.

To illustrate their point concerning the efforts of the proponents of genetically engineered crops to promote their products in the name of hunger rather than safety, critics point to the recent developments in  "golden rice," which contains bacterial and daffodil genes that allow it to make a nutrient that the body converts to vitamin A.

While such rice, developed by public sector scientists in Switzerland and Germany, could help alleviate a vitamin deficiency that blinds and kills millions of people each year is to be given free to poor farmers in  developing countries critics have denounced golden rice as a Trojan horse aimed at winning acceptance of genetically engineered food.

The rice doesn't contain enough of the vitamin-A precursor to make a difference and  the current diet of hungry children lacks the fat and protein needed to convert the precursor into vitamin A. It is also contended that solving just one vitamin deficiency won't make much difference for children who suffer from multiple nutrition problems and that there are other ways of providing vitamin A, like vitamin capsules or unpolished rice.

Ingo Potrykus, the Swiss scientist who led the development of golden rice, claims opponents have a "hidden political agenda." In an article to be published in the journal Vitro Plant, he writes: "It is not so much the  concern about the environment, or the health of the consumer, or help for the poor and disadvantaged. It is a radical fight against a technology and for political  success."


Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C. which has waged many campaigns over the last three decades to improve the nutritional quality and safety of food, now believes that “too many biotech critics have resorted to alarming the public about purported environmental and food risks.”

Writing in the January 25, 2001 Wall Street Journal, Jacobson argues that “while current biotech crops have not been shown to cause any health problem and only minor environmental disturbances, they have begun to yield major benefits. Biotech cotton, for instance, has reduced insecticide usage by more than two million pounds a year. That saves a lot of beneficial insects (not just butterflies) and reduces farmers' exposure to dangerous chemicals. Biotech cotton also has meant higher profits for farmers.

“Likewise, soybeans engineered with immunity to certain herbicides have allowed farmers to replace more toxic herbicides, which pollute water, with relatively benign ones and to reduce soil erosion. In developing countries, biotechnology will protect sweet potatoes from viruses, increase yields of rice, and reduce contamination in corn from mold-produced carcinogens. Some critics complain that biotechnology's promise has not yet been widely fulfilled in these nations. That, however, does not constitute a compelling indictment of this emerging technology,” he adds.

Curiously, Jacobson's second-in-command, Bonnie Liebman is married to Eric Flam of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a consistent figure in the US ("Miami Group) delegation to the biosafety negotiations. (See Issue #63)

Jacobson notes in his op-ed piece that the FDA has proposed guidelines for making voluntary label claims like "Made without genetic engineering." “That won't satisfy the critics' demand,” he observes, “that labels of engineered foods declare `Contains genetically engineered ingredients,’ a statement few companies would agree to put on their products. It would, however, help consumers choose non-engineered foods. Later, labels could be required for engineered foods themselves, provided they would not significantly increase costs or convey inferiority.”

“For both humanitarian and selfish reasons, the biotech industry should join with others to support the sound measures that would help rescue the technology from doubt and controversy,” Jacobson concludes.

A week later in a letter-to-the-editor to the New York Times, Jacobson addressed certain “concerns growing genetically engineered crops in the United States. That could reduce farmers' exposure to pesticides, protect beneficial insects from widespread spraying and cut water pollution and land erosion. Too many critics cavalierly dismiss such benefits.

"We must get beyond the `either- or' attitude toward biotechnology. Comprehensive regulation and increased financing can help safeguard the environment while conventional and novel agricultural techniques are used to increase productivity, protect farmers' lives and incomes and alleviate hunger overseas," he noted.


Farmers across the developing world are throwing away their ploughs in a dramatic example of "sustainable" farming, a practice that is now sending crop yields soaring on millions of farms.

The findings come from the largest ever study of sustainable agriculture, released at a recent conference in London and reported on January 17 by New Scientist Magazine.

The report's author, Jules Pretty of the University of Essex, says sustainable agriculture is now defying its reputation as a worthy enterprise with little chance of feeding millions of starving people. He says sustainable farming has been the most effective way of raising farm yields in the past decade and that farming without tilling is among the most widely adopted forms.

Pretty says the growth is very exciting: "if it spreads we can make substantial inroads in reducing hunger."

Sustainable agriculture deliberately lowers manmade inputs such as chemicals, while maximizing nature's input. It replaces fertilizers with plants that fix nitrogen in the soil and pesticides with natural enemies of pests.

And it is catching on. It now covers three per cent of third world fields, an area the size of Italy. Its methods are having big impacts on farm yields, with typical increases of 40% to 100%

"Sustainable farming has grown in the past decade from being the preserve of a few enthusiasts into a broad movement involving governments and the private sector", says Pretty, whose study collected data on 200 projects in 52 countries and was commissioned by the UK government's Department for International Development.

"It is cheap, uses locally available technology and often improves the environment," he says. "Above all it most helps the people who need it --- poor farmers and their families, who make up the majority of the world's hungry people."

In Latin America, small farmers left behind by past farming revolutions have seen yields of grain and beans rise by two-thirds using "green" methods, says Miguel Altieri of the University of California, Berkeley.

The most widespread new technique is farming without ploughing. In Argentina a third of fields now never see a plough ---- farmers get rid of weeds by planting off-season crops that kill them. Besides relieving them of one of the most tedious jobs on the farm, abandoning the plough improves soil quality and raises crop yields. It even helps curb global warming by accumulating carbon in the soil.

"In a short time, farmers saw reduced costs and greater productivity, increased income and a better environment," said Lauro Bassi, an agronomist from Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, where zero-tillage has been widely adopted "For us zero-tillage is like a social movement."

A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), based on satellite maps, reveals that much of the world's farmland is in such poor condition that farmers will have to find better ways than currently to grow crops or else their production won't keep pace with the growing population. Only about 16%  of the world's farmland is free of fertility problems, or "constraints," such as chemical contamination, acidity, salinity or poor drainage.

"The basic story is that agriculture is being pretty successful at keeping the world in food. It's been somewhat less successful in nurturing the natural resources that underpin that production capacity," said Stanley Wood, the report's lead author.

At the same time that the IFPRI study was being made public, Lester Brown of the World Watch Institute was noting that “until now, the paving over of cropland has occurred largely in industrial countries, home to four fifths of the world's 520 million automobiles . . . For every five cars added to the U.S. fleet, an area the size of a football field is covered with asphalt. More often than not, cropland is paved simply because the flat, well-drained soils that are well suited for farming are also ideal for building roads. Once paved, land is not easily reclaimed.”

As environmentalist Rupert Cutler once noted, "Asphalt is the land's last crop." The United States, Brown adds, with its 214 million motor vehicles, has paved 3.9 million miles of roads, enough to circle the earth at the equator 157 times . . . In developing countries, however, where automobile fleets are still small and where cropland is in short supply, the paving is just getting underway. More and more of the 11 million cars added annually to the world's vehicle fleet of 520 million are found in the developing world.

“This means that the war between cars and crops is being waged over wheat fields and rice paddies in countries where hunger is common. The outcome of this conflict in China and India, two countries that together contain 38% of the world's people, will affect food security everywhere,” he concludes.

Taking into account such facts, Great Britain’s New Scientist Magazine, in a February 3, 2001 editorial commenting on the Pretty study correctly notes:

“For some, talk of `sustainable agriculture’ sounds like a luxury the poor can ill afford. But in truth it is good science, addressing real needs and delivering real results. For too long it has been the preserve of environmentalists and a few aid charities. It is time for the major agricultural research centres and their funding agencies to join the revolution.”


Despite the widely held and erroneously held belief that the world’s  primary problems of wide-spread poverty are in the cities, a recent United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development study found that 75% of the 1.2 billion people living on less than one dollar a day are in rural  areas, where the economy is based on agriculture.

“Current development efforts grossly and increasingly neglect agricultural and rural people," said Michael Lipton, director of the Poverty Research Unit at Sussex University in England, who contributed to the report, which was released in New York. “The tremendous decline in attention to rural poor that has taken place everywhere must be reversed," Lipton said.

The U.N. report notes that while at the Millennium Summit in September, nearly 150 world leaders pledged to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, aid has yet to be directed where the majority of the poor live and work.

Nearly half the world's poorest people (44%) live in south Asia, with 24% in sub-Saharan Africa, 24% in east Asia, and 6.5% in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the report by the Rome-based agency.

“The failure stems in large part from a misconception that the main poverty problem has moved from the countryside to the burgeoning megacities of the developing world," said Fawzi Al-Sultan, president of IFAD.

To meet the goal, the agency said 30 million people need to escape poverty every year but only ten million are currently doing so. The failure is especially acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where the rate of poverty reduction needs to be six times faster to meet the 2015 deadline.

Thus, cutting world poverty in half requires a new focus on reviving agricultural development and responding to the needs of rural populations and calls for a global effort to give the rural poor better access to land, water, technology and capital, as well as more open markets. It also requires, the study adds, land reform and new policies to combat bias against women and girls, who constitute the majority of the rural poor ---and whose poverty is often reinforced through cultural and legal obstacles.


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