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

Issue #110                                                                           April 2, 2001


What began as an “arranged marriage” now appears headed towards becoming a “shotgun marriage” as the spurned betrothed IBP Inc., the nation’s largest meat packer, is planning to take its suitor, Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest poultry producer, into court.

The action came last week as Tyson announced that it was calling off a $4.7 billion purchase of IBP Inc. that would have also made it the nation's leading beef AND poultry producer, the decision coming nine days after IBP said an investigation into its appetizer unit, Chicago-based DFG Foods, a maker of specialty foods, uncovered potential manipulation of financial records and product theft, and mismanagement by former unit managers.

"We simply cannot endorse a decision to complete the transaction under the facts as we understand them today," said John Tyson, chairman and chief executive of the Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson.

Immediately following the Tyson announcement IBP filed a lawsuit in a Delaware state court seeking to force Tyson to complete the purchase, despite contentions that undisclosed financial problems at IBP rendered the deal invalid.

“Tyson's actions are completely unjustified by anything that has transpired, and we will do what is necessary to protect our shareholders and our company," Robert L. Peterson, chairman and chief executive of IBP, said in a statement. "We can only speculate that this is a classic case of buyer's remorse."

At the same time of the IBP suit, in an Arkansas court room, Tyson was accusing the company that has been called the nation’s number one “corporate outlaw” of fraud in seeking to "lure" it into "vastly overpaying" for the meatpacker's stock.

The Tyson lawsuit said it abandoned its $3.2 billion merger with IBP after discovering "materially false" representations and warranties by IBP senior management about the company's books. The suit in addition seeks recovery of "all monies paid or advanced by Tyson under the merger agreement," including $66.5 million IBP paid a Credit Suisse Group DLJ unit as a breakup fee after it dropped out of the bidding for IBP late last year.

The suit also disclosed that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in a letter to IBP dated March 16, is "continuing to investigate IBP's actions."

Originally, IBP amended financial reports for the SEC after the DFG Foods problems were uncovered, but Tyson officials now say that the terms of the deal had been based on incorrect filings submitted earlier.

"Unfortunately, we relied on that misleading information in determining whether to enter into the merger agreement," Tyson general counsel Les Baledge wrote in a letter faxed to top IBP officials.

After the problems at IBP were made public, analysts doubted Tyson’s would be willing to pay the agreed-upon $30 per IBP share price in cash and stock, worth $3.2 billion. Tyson would have also assumed $1.5 billion in IBP debt. The original agreement carried a break-up fee of $15 million payable to Tyson if the deal was canceled and allowed Tyson to collect out-of-pocket fees and expenses.

Officials of IBP argue that in fact, they had warned Tyson of possible inventory write-downs connected with the DFG Foods purchase of at least $30 million to $35 million before the deal was reached, and suggested that the losses could be substantially more. As a result, they said Tyson had no justification for backing out.

Write-downs aside, reports the New York Times’ Greg Winter, “analysts said that Tyson had other, more far-reaching, reasons to terminate the  agreement. The cattle industry is suffering its worst winter in seven years, according to Jaine Mehring, a food analyst with Salomon Smith Barney. That led IBP to miss analysts' expectations for the most recent quarter by 25%.”

Tyson officials "believe they have an out, and they're deciding to use it," Mehring told Winter.


"Could the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease affecting global beef markets be an act of industrial espionage rather than nature? Could Tyson Foods Inc., the world's leading poultry supplier, be behind the deadly slaughter?"

These concerns, reports the Village Voice’s long-time respected investigative reporter Jim Ridgeway, are being voiced by Dr. Leonard Horowitz, who claims to have previously traced the origins of mad cow disease to a CIA "industrial espionage" op, “allegedly part of a broader bioterrorist move to reinvigorate the agency by turning it into a corporate gun for hire.”

Horowitz, Ridgeway writes in the Voice’s March 28 edition, points the finger at Tyson only in part because executives including Don Tyson, the company’s founder and former CEO, and James Blair, the recently retired chief legal counsel for the company, were close to both Bill and Hillary Clinton.

He thinks another connection can be found in a supposed E. coli outbreak, which he claims made it easier for the big chicken processor to take over a beef company by driving down its stock price. (See Issue #101 --- “Setup Role of the Clinton Administration in Tyson Food-IBP Purchase Suggested”)

Tyson Foods had no immediate comment to Horowitz’s charge.

Horowitz also points to the 1997 outbreak of chicken flu in China --- yet another sign, in his view, of Tyson's hidden hand.

All of this is undertaken, in Horowitz's view, to drive down competing agribusiness and extend the tentacles of Tyson's chicken monopoly around the world.

Ridgeway also notes that “conspiracy buffs” believe that the U.S. set off a hoof-and-mouth epidemic in Iraq in 1993 during the Persian Gulf war by blowing up a lab that made vaccine to fight the disease which led to the killing or crippling millions of animals and contributing to the misery of Iraq's civilian population. At the time, the U.S. claimed the supposed lab was engaged in making germ and biological warfare agents.

This past weekend a new strain of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) --- a disease that affects cattle and other livestock --- was reported by the FAO World Reference Laboratory (WRL) for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) at Pirbright, United Kingdom to have appeared to have spread from Iran into Turkey. The WRL has issued a warning "that current vaccines are not likely to protect against challenge by the variant". This leaves cattle across the Near East and southeast Europe vulnerable to the disease.


Charges that California’s Governor Gray Davis was improperly influenced by its political contributions in his ordering a state ban on the use of MTBE in gasoline in March 1999, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) executives believe are unfounded, as evidenced they say by the governor's request for a waiver of his state's gasoline from federal clean-air rules.

The company’s response came after new criticism from Canada's Methanex Corp., a major manufacturer of methanol for MTBE, that ADM (“Supermarkup to the World”) influenced the governor by flying him to a meeting during his 1998 gubernatorial campaign which was to be  attended mostly by people tied to the ethanol industry.

A producer of over half the U.S.’s ethanol production ADM stood to gain richly by convincing the California governor that MTBE was unsafe, according to Methanex officials.

An itinerary for the meeting published in March 30 Wall Street Journal shows two of the seven officials scheduled to attend were ethanol-industry executives and two more were ADM senior executives heavily involved in that company's ethanol business. The remaining three were senior ADM executives. At least one person on the list didn't show up for the meeting.

The meeting, which was held at a country club near ADM headquarters in Decatur, Illinois was what the company called a get-acquainted session with the gubernatorial candidate.

A spokesman for Gov. Davis said the meeting in no way swayed the  Democratic governor and that he issued the ban after a University of  California study commissioned by his predecessor, Republican Gov. Pete  Wilson, found MTBE was contaminating the state's water supplies. ADM officials in denying an attempt to influence Davis, claimed that “they merely wanted to educate him on all the business their company does  in California.”

Canada’s Methanex Corp., a major manufacturer of the fuel additive, is seeking $1 billion in damages for alleged violations under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

NAFTA prohibits unfair protection of domestic industries, and Methanex is charging that U.S. officials acted improperly to protect the American ethanol industry, which competes against methanol as a gasoline additive that reduces toxic emissions. Methanex believes that Gov. Davis and U.S. officials were improperly influenced by ADM, a rival maker of ethanol, for which it has received over the years enormous federal subsidies.

Methanex alleges ADM influenced the governor by giving him  contributions totaling about $200,000. Methanex, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, said it gave no contributions in the California gubernatorial contest.

The Journal’s Jim Carleton reports the representatives for both ADM and Gov. Davis deny the Methanex’s allegations noting that both ADM officials  and the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol-industry trade group in Washington, D.C., say they are actually at odds with the governor over his request for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to waive the requirement for oxygenates such as MTBE and ethanol in California gasoline.

That request, which is still pending, was made on grounds California has alternative gasoline programs that achieve equivalent air quality benefits.  "If this is granted, it would kill the ethanol industry in California,"  said Monte Shaw, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association.

But Methanex officials,, Carlton adds, argue the oxygenate waiver is being used as a ploy by the governor to make it appear he isn't siding with ethanol. "The ethanol lobby in Washington is working hard to make sure it won't be granted," said Michael Macdonald, a Methanex spokesman and vice president.


Faced with fact that more than half of the poultry sold in California still comes from out of state from the nation’s two major producers --- Tyson Foods, based in Arkansas, and Perdue Farms in Maryland --- Foster Farms, the western United States largest producer, has reached an agreement to buy the chicken operations of the market's second largest, Zacky Farms.

Already dominate in the north part of the state, Foster Farms' market will now spread to Southern California, where Zacky has maintained a strong presence since its founding 72 years ago in Los Angeles, according to Paul Carter, Foster's chief executive.

Subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust division, and a review by the Federal Trade Commission, the purchase is exclusively for Zacky's Fresno chicken operations, which include a huge processing plant as well as large ranches where the chickens are raised. Foster will also acquire a distribution center and headquarters building in El Monte, near Los Angeles.

Half of Zacky's 3,000 workers will become Foster Farms employees. Foster Farms already employs 9,000 people and last year had revenues of more than $1 billion.

The Zacky family will continue to own and operate its turkey business as well as its deli and other processed meat operations. Its combined businesses last year brought in about $350 million, the company said.

Robert Zacky, president of Zacky Farms, told the Sacramento Bee’s Paul Schnitt that the decision to sell the chicken operations was motivated mainly by the death last year of his brother, Al, which left the family with a large inheritance tax liability. "With the dollars we will get from the chicken side, it will satisfy all the needs of the inheritance taxes," Zacky said.

Sebastiani Vineyards, Schnitt reports, also had similar motivations when it sold most of its business to Canandaigua Wine Co. in February, anticipating a huge tax liability when family matriarch Sylvia Sebastiani, now in her 80s, dies.

Richard Sexton, an agricultural economics professor at the University of California, Davis, believes the purchase deserves close scrutiny. "The issue in terms of antitrust and impact on consumers will be how readily poultry production from outside California can come into the state," Sexton said.

At the same time, according to John Hagen, professor of agricultural economics at California State University, Fresno, suppliers, whether they produce chicken, beef, eggs or milk, need to get big enough to have credible clout in negotiating with the retail giants.

"Foster Farms is one of many players in the chicken business in California and the western United States," company spokesman Randy Boyce told Schnitt. "We're just trying to stay competitive."


Leaving their farms just before spring planting, farmers with the Campaign for Family Farms traveled recently from across the Midwest to Washington, D.C., to protest the Bush Administration and the USDA’s decision to nullify the nation’s pork producers vote to end the industry’s checkoff program.

On Sunday, March 25, more than 300 hog farmers and community leaders rallied at the Alexandria, Virginia home of the US Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, who on February 28 decided to continue the pork checkoff tax --- an assessment paid by farmers each time they sell a hog.

Last September, hog farmers nationwide voted to end the tax, but before the program could be dismantled the new administration attempted and successfully overturned the vote. The Campaign for Family Farms has filed pleadings in federal court to uphold the vote that terminated the mandatory pork tax.

Larry Ginter, an Iowa hog farmer and member of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) who participated in the rally at Veneman's house, said he was in Washington, D.C., to end the pork tax and protect democracy.

"As a hog farmer, I'm appalled that the new Secretary of Agriculture would choose to support a failed and unpopular tax on hogs as her first action in office.  But as an American, I'm incensed that USDA attempted to do this by negating a democratic vote."

The following Monday farmers and other citizens took their protest to the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the organization that has been receiving nearly $1 million per week from America's hog farmers through the checkoff tax. Over 150 people protested at the Washington D.C., offices of the NPPC for about 45 minutes chanting, "Honor our vote, honor democracy, end the pork tax now!"

NPPC officials later charged protesters “stormed and vandalized” their offices near Capitol Hill and "pulled and shoved employees." Steven Cohen, communications director for the council, said police were called and the protesters agreed to leave with no arrests of injuries.

Chris Gabriele, a member of the NPPC staff, however, told the Des Moines Register’s George Anthan that he was at the council's headquarters during the protest. "It is absolutely not true" that offices were vandalized and employees were physically abused, Gabriele said.

"The NPPC has inaccurately reported that physical abuse occurred at the protest. There was no such thing.  The NPPC is saying that to try to confuse people and prevent them from standing up and speaking out for democracy," Linda Noble, a Kenyon, Minnesota, hog farmer and member of Land Stewardship Project said,

"Hog farmers protested at the NPPC office because it's obvious that NPPC has forgotten whose money they are taking.  Independent hog farmers nationwide voted to end the mandatory pork checkoff, but the NPPC doesn't respect independent producers and it doesn't respect democracy," she added.

Rhonda Perry, a Missouri hog farmer who works with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, explained the reason for the protests:  "This is America where everyone's vote should count.  When freedom and democracy are attacked you have  to take your message to the people who stand in the way of democracy. That is the American way, from Boston Harbor to Selma, Alabama."

While decrying the alleged protester violence at its Washington headquarters producer delegates to the National Pork Industry Forum, the National Pork Producers Council and National Pork Promotion & Research Board meeting in Kissimmee, Florida were being told to fight on activists' ground using “attack technologies” or face destruction

Nick Nichols, chief executive officer of Nichols Dezenhall, a communications and crisis management group in Washington, D.C.,, told the delegates that “activists' attacks on companies, products and livelihoods "are not public relations problems. They are crises, and they require crisis management."

Agriculture needs to use "attack technologies," he said according to Feedstuff’s Staff Editor Rod Smith, and quoted gangster Al Capone, who said: "You can get more with kind words and a smile and a gun than you get with kind words and a smile."

In a crisis, Nichols said, it's too late for public relations, which he called "a feel-good" strategy and compared it to "taking a poodle to a Rottweiler show." He said attackers don't want to feel good, don't want to compromise and want to win, "and your survival is at stake. The landscape is littered with businesses and products that these people destroyed."

Nichols said companies and producers under attack should attack back by driving home the benefits of a product that "are personally relevant" to consumers and establishing risk for the attackers by "tearing down their mantle of virtue," i.e., showing that the attacker wants to take away something society values such as family farmers who produce chickens or livestock for integrators.

He said companies and producers need to gather information about attackers, move quickly with both defensive and offensive strategies, deploy globally, fight like guerrillas and "take no prisoners." He said messages should be based on science but still be emotional and messengers should be charismatic and credible. "Think about the message," he urged. "Think about the messenger."


Provision X, the first online marketplace of Commerce Ventures LLC that will reportedly operate as an open, full-service, neutral web-based exchange focused on buyers and sellers of beef, pork and poultry products and related services, announced last week the opening of its beef, pork and poultry marketplace, with initial trading beginning between 90 buyers and sellers within eight companies.

Starting with eight companies, including five suppliers and three buyers will trade through the marketplace.  The initial suppliers include Cargill Inc.’s Excel Corporation, Farmland Foods/Farmland National Beef, Gold Kist Inc., IBP, inc., and Tyson Foods Inc., while Foodbrands America, Topco Associates Inc., and Good Source represent the purchasers.

"We are excited to announce that customers are using our marketplace for their everyday business of buying and selling meat and poultry.  We are confident that they will be pleased with the functionality available with this release," said Kevin Nemetz, chief executive officer of Provision X. "We took the time to develop a fully tested business solution that we feel will help industry professionals save time and money."

Provision X sales representatives will be on-site at each company to guide users through the trading process to ensure the success of the marketplace.  Initial customers include 90 participants representative of distributors, packers, processors, retail and food service businesses.

"These participants and their initial buy-in is what has gotten us to launch day," said Del Holzer, vice president of marketing for Provision X.  "Over the past few months, they have assisted us in identifying and incorporating functionality into the marketplace to reflect their current business needs. The step-by-step process we have gone through will eventually benefit all who use the site because we have taken every measure to ensure Provision X reflects the current culture of our industry."

A unique characteristic of Provision X, it is claimed, is that meat and poultry industry professionals built the marketplace to mirror the way business is currently conducted.

"What makes our exchange attractive is that our online customers will still have a single point of contact with each company they do business, just like they do today," said Holzer.  "Business relationships, order amounts, contract terms --- all information pertaining to transactions is kept between the buyer and the seller.  That will continue online at Provision X because our marketplace keeps that private pipeline of information intact."

Provision X notes points out that the most significant benefit of the online marketplace “is the speed at which information is available and delivered.”  Conducting business through Provision X will streamline the process by eliminating the numerous exchange of phone calls, faxes and e-mails encountered in today's meat and poultry buying process.  Transactions that once took a day to complete will now be possible in minutes.

"Selling meat through Provision X is another way for Excel to provide an innovative solution to our customers," said Bill Buckner, president of Excel Corp.  "There are two cornerstones in the meat and poultry industry --- efficiency and relationships.  Provision X preserves our culture and transfers it to an online marketplace to help us improve in both areas.  We believe that this marketplace will be embraced as not only an information source but an essential tool to increase efficiency and cut transaction
costs on a daily basis."

Provision X also notes that it is a neutral marketplace open to the entire meat and poultry industry.  Because the marketplace so closely emulates the industry, there is a substantial amount of data input and system integration required before customers join the marketplace.  For these reasons, the registration process may take up to four weeks.


Over one million Indian farmers gathered and demonstrated on March 19 at New Delhi’s Kisan Ghat in what they termed a last-ditch fight against globalization and their government's "anti-farmer and reform policies".

With the threat of a nation wide Satyagraha ---- direct action and a program for a parallel government --- they had managed by the end of the day to see a six-member delegation gain an appointment with the President of India the following day. The National Coordination of Indian Farmers Movements, an effort led by Bharatiya Kisan Union's Mahendra Singh Tikait and Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, (KRRS) President Prof. M.D. Nanjundaswamy, had requested the President to intervene.

April 1 had been scheduled for the lifting of the last set of quantitative  restrictions (QRs), leaving the government with three options on  protection-tariff barriers, anti-dumping steps and safeguard measures.

In recent months agricultural issues have become the focus of attention of India’s political parties, while scientists and NGOs have been voicing apprehensions about the effect of the World Trade Organization's trade liberalization process.

India’s government has acknowledged that the WTO is loaded in favor of the developed countries, and has been promised a spirited fight during the review now coming up.

In a letter addressed to the President of India circulated by the farmers they stated their grievances:

“One of the main reasons for the failure of the Seattle Ministerial Conference of WTO is attributed to the major disagreements between and among the major trading nations, especially in the area of agriculture.  We believe, it is essential to use this development as an opportunity to change course and develop an alternative, humane, democratically
accountable and sustainable system of commerce that benefits all.

“The time has come to acknowledge the crises the international trading system is causing and the crises in which its main administering institution, the WTO itself is.

“The GATT Uruguay Round Agreements and the establishment of the WTO were proclaimed as a means of enhancing the creation of global wealth and property and promoting the well being of all people in all member states. In reality, however, the WTO has contributed to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich few; increasing the poverty for the majority of the World's peoples, especially in the third world countries.

“The WTO and GATT Uruguay Round Agreements have functioned principally to pry open markets for the benefit of transnational corporations at the expense of national and local economies, workers, farmers, indigenous peoples, women and other social groups as also of health and safety, the environment and animal welfare.

“Under these circumstances, it is urgent that India should take the lead in projecting the imbalances, particularly in the Agreement on Agriculture, by demonstrating how the imbalances have seriously hamstrung the ability and potential of India and third world countries to develop agriculture, and also by exposing and arguing against the inequities in the Agreement which include the Provision that provides different sets of rules which
effectively allow developed countries to maintain their subsidies while denying developing countries the same rights and how by reclassifying these subsidies  the developed countries are creating better market access for their products and denying the same to the developing countries.

“But, though it has become clear that agriculture has become the most distorted sector of trade, the developed countries with their trade-distorting  subsidies and import barriers still are determined to continue with this same `Unfair Trade.’

“It is time to turn this `Unfair Trade’ around. This process entails rolling back the power and authority of the WTO by making it recognize that in countries like India, where the main source of assured access to food is food production itself, either in the form of subsistence farming or through generation of farm incomes, and that imports of food could not be an alternative to domestic production.

“International trade regimes should realize that Food is a Basic Human Right and not a commodity of Trade. So much so, measures necessary to promote and protect food security and food sovereignty, subsistence farming, humane farming practices and sustainable agriculture must be  exempt from international free trade rules.

“In view of this, Sir, we urge upon you to interfere, using your Constitutional powers, to save Indian Farming and farmers from the impending and increasing dangers of "Free Trade" in Agriculture by advising the Government of India to strive towards taking Agriculture out of the World Trade Organization.”


"I said earlier that one aspect of the Protestant ethic . . . is a belief that each individual's value is established by his accomplishment, and that for that reason each person should be allowed to grow as wealthy and powerful as he can. But this unfettered growth of wealth and power threatens the very social framework out of which it has emerged. It is not an easy  dilemma to solve, for it confronts freedom with equality --- an age-old issue . . .
"How much freedom? How much equality? Very much is at stake, not only for the farm communities, but for the whole of the American polity. If, as I have suggested, the growth of corporate control of agriculture is not a product of efficiency, intelligence and hard work --- of virtue according to the Protestant Ethic--- but a consequence of policies and manipulations, the matter takes on a different character. The task, is to reformulate policies respecting agriculture so that the competitive advantage of large scale operations are removed, so that the ordinary working farmer has an equal chance. If this is done, it may not be necessary to resolve the dilemma between freedom and equality."

--- Dr. Walter Goldschmidt, "The Rural Foundation of American Culture," Gregory Foundation Memorial Lecture, University of Missouri on January 26, 1976.


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