February 27, 2003, Issue #225
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
From a Public Interest Perspective

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LAURIE ASSEO, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Archer Daniels Midland Co., Cargill Inc. and another maker of corn sweeteners must face a trial over price-fixing claims after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to throw out a $4 billion suit by food companies.

The suit says the producers colluded to fix the price of a corn sweetener used in soft drinks, candy and baked goods.

In a separate 1996 case, ADM, the world's largest grain [processor], paid a then-record $100 million fine and three executives were sent to prison for conspiring to fix the price of lysine, an animal feed additive.

ADM and closely held Cargill are the two biggest rivals in the $3 billion U.S. market for the high-fructose corn syrup. ADM's purchase of Minnesota Corn Processors LLC last year put it ahead of Cargill, which had surpassed it earlier in the year by buying Cerestar.

"We don't think there's any basis to the suit, us and everybody else," said Dwight Grimestad, vice president of investor relations at ADM. The high court refused to hear the case "so we're in trial," he said.

The justices, without comment Monday, declined to hear arguments by Decatur, Illinois-based ADM, Cargill and A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. that the food and beverage companies didn't provide enough evidence of a price-fixing conspiracy to go to trial.

"While we're disappointed by the court's decision not to review the case, it wasn't a ruling on the merits," said Cargill spokesman Bill Brady. "Cargill observed the law in its business practices, and we look forward to presenting our case at trial." . . . .

The 1995 class-action suit was filed on behalf of several thousand food companies, such as PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. The companies estimate they suffered $1.4 billion in damages and will ask a jury to triple that amount, said their lawyer, Robert Kaplan.

"There are thousands of people, bakeries, dairies, bottlers, canners" who would benefit if the suit is successful, Kaplan said Monday.

The food makers say the corn-sweetener producers agreed in 1988 to raise prices. The suit claims the companies implemented the policy the following year and the conspiracy continued until the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided ADM in 1995 over the lysine price-fixing case. Kaplan said that after the raid, corn-sweetener prices went down even though corn prices rose.

Former ADM vice chairman Michael Andreas was among the three executives sent to prison for the lysine conspiracy. The company cooperated in a federal investigation of the sweetener producers, which ended in 1999 without any charges.

After a federal judge threw out the food and beverage companies' lawsuit in 2001, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived it last June. While the evidence wasn't conclusive, it was "highly suggestive of the existence of an explicit, though of course, covert agreement to fix prices," the court wrote.

ADM, Cargill and Staley argued in separate appeals to the Supreme Court that the evidence was too weak to warrant a trial. Cargill's lawyers called the price-fixing evidence "speculative and ambiguous." Cargill contended there was evidence against a conspiracy, saying major corn-sweetener buyers such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi "wielded their purchasing power to obtain deep discounts," demonstrating that suppliers were willing to discount their prices to obtain sales.

The 7th Circuit court also had ruled that trial jurors can be told that Andreas and another jailed former ADM executive asserted their constitutional right against self-incrimination when authorities asked whether they fixed prices for corn sweetener. ADM unsuccessfully asked the justices to reverse that decision.

ADM chairman Allen Andreas, a cousin of Michael Andreas, took over the company in 1997 and replaced more than half of the top management. He barred his cousin from returning to work at the company when the former executive's three-year sentence ended last year.Archer Daniels had $23.5 billion in sales in its fiscal year ended June 30. Cargill, based in Wayzata, Minnesota, the largest privately held U.S. company, had $50.8 billion in sales in its fiscal year ended May 31, 2002. Staley is a unit of Tate & Lyle Plc, the U.K.'s largest sugar maker.


REUTERS NEWS SERVICE: The high costs and uncertain pay-off from genetically altered crops are major factors behind the increasing concentration of research into a handful of firms, a study of the industry said.

Four firms account for 57% of research and development of genetically modified (GM) crops, said the report by Bio Economic Research Associates, a consulting firm. Agrochemical firms headed its list of 180 firms, universities and government agencies active in agricultural biotechnology.

Development of a GM plant variety can take six to 12 years at a cost ranging from $50 million to $300 million, Bio-ERA said. Even then, "companies must face risks of market acceptance."

"In any case, research and development activity in this sector is likely to remain highly concentrated," the report said.

Monsanto Co., Du Pont/Pioneer, Bayer/Aventis and Dow were the four leading firms in bio-crop research and development, Bio-ERA said in its report, "Agricultural Biotechnology at the Crossroads."

While the industry was poised to release "a dizzying array of genetic innovations in the years ahead," it faced consumer skepticism of its products and suggestions within the food industry to limit the regions where some GM crops are grown or to create separate systems for handling the novel crops.

Biotech firms "must first stengthen their capabilities to work effectively with the many stakeholders whose interests are affected by their bioengineered products," Bio-ERA said. "We believe this kind of advocacy, or social marketing, will become a core competency of successful companies." The report was released in Washington and a conference in California.


BRIAN LAZENBY, TIMES PREE PRESS: Two former Tyson Foods managers, Spencer Mabe and Truley Ponder, are expected to testify against their former employer in early March after jurors in the federal immigration trial here get a weeklong recess.

Court officials said the break comes at the trial's projected midway point, and testimony will resume March 4. "I think that will make things a little easier," U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar said on the trial's opening day.

Tyson Foods and managers Robert Hash, Gerald Lankford and Keith Snyder are charged with conspiring to smuggle illegal aliens into the country and provide them with false work documents. Tyson manager Jimmy Rowland also was named in the indictment but committed suicide after the charges were made public.

The men expected to testify against the company, former Shelbyville, Tennessee plant manager Mr. Mabe and former Shelbyville complex manager Mr. Ponder, pleaded guilty last month and agreed to assist the government.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John MacCoon said the alleged conspiracy originated in Shelbyville and was the product of "corporate greed." "Shelbyville became the proving ground for a nationwide conspiracy," Mr. Mac-Coon said. "As a result, it became the model of productivity."

But Tyson lawyer Tom Green maintained that any plans to smuggle and transport illegal aliens were the actions of a few "rogue managers" who since have been fired. "When you have 67,000 employees, there will always be some that will break the rules," he said. "Only a handful of people were involved, and they have all been terminated from the company."

If convicted, Tyson Foods could be fined up to $100 million, the amount prosecutors maintain the company saved by using illegal labor. Each of the managers could spend years in a federal prison if found guilty.

In testimony thus far, U.S. Border Patrol agents have described how they were paid to deliver more than 170 immigrants in 26 loads to about seven Tyson plants. Tyson managers testified that workers with fraudulent Social Security cards and citizenship documents that would not pass the company's employment eligibility safeguards were hired through temporary employment agencies that did not use a computer database to verify the documents.

A former nurse at the Tyson poultry plant in Sedalia, Missouri., testified that the meat-processing giant employed Hispanic children to work in the plants. "One young man was injured when he caught his arm in an auger," said Kelly Englert, who was a nurse at the plant for six years. "Later we found out he was 14 years old." Ms. Englert said Tyson personnel hired children as young as nine..

After that testimony, Tyson officials released a statement in which Dana Dunworth, a nursing supervisor, claimed Ms. Englert's statements were false "Kelly Englert never reported anything to me about underage employees at the plant," Ms. Dunworth said in the statement. "If she had, I would have immediately contacted our human resources department."

Former Tyson employees have testified that there were very few Hispanic workers in company plants in the early 1990s, but a few years later there were many.

Prosecutors said the alleged conspiracy centered on Tyson's s Shelbyville plant but reached managers at many facilities, including senior executives at Tyson's corporate headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas.

Mr. Green said the individuals involved in the conspiracy went out of their way to keep senior management from knowing about the illegal workers because they knew it violated company policy. "Policies were in place to prevent the hiring of undocumented workers," he said. "All employees must follow the rules of law when hiring workers."

The current trial is not Tyson Food's first legal entanglement. In January 1998, Tyson representatives pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to paying a gratuity to a public official. According to court records, Tyson executive Archie Schaffer and lobbyist Jack Williams were convicted of illegally trying to influence former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. Former President Bill Clinton pardoned both Mr. Schaffer and Mr. Williams, while Tyson Foods remained on a four-year probation.

Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ordered Tyson to pay a $4 million fine and $2 million for prosecution costs in the case, the federal court order states. Tyson must file quarterly reports of all expenditures related to federal employees, office holders or candidates for federal offices, as well as submit to random inspections of the company's books and records and create a "corporate code of conduct and compliance," the order states.

Tyson Foods was scheduled to be released from probation in 2002, but Judge Urbina extended the probation when the company was indicted on the immigration charges, according to court records.

In a statement released by Tyson, officials said a motion was filed contesting the probation extension and listing several reasons they believe the action is inappropriate. At the heart of the company's grievance is its company wide compliance policy, which officials said has been "lauded as an industry leading example of corporate responsibility."

In a civil matter, Chuck Shipley, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, lawyer, said Tyson's Noel, Missouri, processing plant is named in an environmental lawsuit accusing the company of dumping chicken waste into the Grand Lake watershed, which covers portions of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.

"It appears Tyson has a management rule of thumb," Mr. Shipley said. "They will do whatever it is they have to do in order to make money."

Ed Nicholson, director of media and community relations for Tyson, said in a statement that the company makes every effort to cooperate with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and to conduct business in an environmentally responsible manner.

Mr. Nicholson said company officials have "worked diligently to ensure our growers strictly adhere to both mandated and voluntary environmental measures."


GREGORY CROUCH WITH JENNIFER BAYOT, NEW YORK TIMES: The accounting scandal at Royal Ahold has left thousands of its Dutch employees in debt to the company.

In the 1990's, rising stock markets bolstered the idea that employees and companies alike could benefit by encouraging workers to own significant stakes in their businesses. The idea spread in the United States and across the Atlantic.

Ahold, the global grocery company, created a program that encouraged workers in the Netherlands not only to buy stock but allowed them to borrow money to do so. Some 3,500 workers at Ahold and its Dutch subsidiaries, including the supermarket chain Albert Heijn, took out company loans in the last decade to buy shares of a fund that invested in Ahold stock, debt and other obligations. Since the company disclosed accounting problems on Monday, the company's stock and bonds have plunged in value.

Those borrowers now have fund holdings worth far less than the amounts they owe in most cases. On paper, the employees now owe the company millions of dollars.

"It is extremely disappointing for our employees," said Hans Koeleman, a spokesman for Albert Heijn, the supermarket chain. "And we understand their disappointment. That's clear."

Corey Rosen, executive director of the National Center for Employee Ownership in Oakland, Calif., said he expected employee ownership plans to continue spreading in Europe. Employees will view Ahold's situation as an aberration, he said. "It's dangerous, as a policy matter, to say that you should build corporate policy around these outliers," Mr. Rosen said.

Others warned that losses like Ahold's could limit the spread of stock ownership in Europe.

"One of the concerns new investors always have in each generation is whether the stock market is in some way `rigged,' that the little guy has no chance," said Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School. "Examples like Ahold persuade them that this view is right."

Ahold disclosed Monday that it had overstated its earnings by at least $500 million in total over the last two years because of accounting irregularities at U.S. Foodservice, one of the largest food distributors in the United States. The problem involved the accounting for promotional payments made to the unit, which is based in Columbia, Maryland, and was acquired by Ahold in 2000.

That accounting revelation --- along with the announcement of an internal investigation into possible bookkeeping problems at its Argentinian subsidiary, Disco --- sent Ahold's stock into a tailspin. The American depository receipts of Ahold fell 72 cents more today, to $3.44, for a 68% decline from $10.69 since the end of last week.

The employee fund is known as the AH Regular Customer Fund. About half of its assets are in Ahold stock. [Tuesday] the fund's shares were worth roughly half what many employees paid for them using borrowed money back in 1998. The shares have fallen 32% the last two days.

Ahold tried to reassure jittery employees by reminding them that the loans in many instances do not have to be paid back until 2008. By that time, it hopes the stock will have recovered, an argument that may strike some as cold comfort given the extent of the company's problems.

Employees who leave the company have to pay the loan back in full at the time of their departure, according to Mr. Koeleman.

Taking out a loan to buy into the AH Regular Customer Fund sounded like a great deal back when Ahold's stock was soaring. Through a complicated structure, Ahold effectively made interest-free loans totaling 44 million euros to its employees.

"When things go wrong, they really backfire," said Oscar Poos of Oyens & Van Eeghen, an Amsterdam brokerage house.

Besides employees, many of Albert Heijn's customers bought into the fund with their own money. They were not eligible for the loan program.

Albert Heijn is revered in the Netherlands, and many Dutch had come to trust it not only with their shopping but with their savings, too. The grocery store chain has run promotions in recent years offering fund shares rather than cash to shoppers who
make certain volumes of purchases.

In all, 148,000 people have shares in the fund, 10,000 of them employees; 3,500 of those employees borrowed from the company to buy shares. In 1998, the year when most of the employees began participating, the loans ranged from 4,500 euros  ($4,844) to 22,500 euros. The fund's total assets were 218.5 million euros after Friday's market close, according to the fund's Web site, which posts prices for the fund daily; by the end of the day Monday, the fund was worth just 148 million euros.

Jill Chasen, the spokeswoman of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents Ahold's supermarket workers at Giant Foods and Stop & Shop, said: "They have pension funds that are not dependent on Ahold's stock prices. There is a guaranteed cash payout." Ahold U.S.A. would not comment, referring calls to its headquarters.

JAKE HENSHAW, VENTURA COUNTY STAR: California farm groups Monday filed their anticipated lawsuit against a new labor bill that forces mandatory mediation on growers and farmworkers when contract negotiations stall.

Western Growers and the California Farm Bureau challenged the law as unconstitutional in the suit filed in Superior Court. The law was signed in September.

"We believe the law is patently illegal," said Western Growers President Tom Nassif. But a spokesman for the United Farm Workers, the primary advocate of the new law, defended it as legal as well as necessary to make effective the state's law authorizing collective bargaining in the agricultural industry.

"The Legislature has a right to remedy [by passing the new law] the long-standing delays by growers that render meaningless the right to bargain" on contracts, UFW spokesman Marc Grossman said.

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez also criticized the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit public interest law firm, and one of its vice presidents, David Sterling, for taking on the case for the growers. Sterling and the UFW were at odds at times when he previously served as general counsel for the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which administers state farm labor laws.

"Dave Sterling and the growers have shown their true colors," Rodriguez said in a statement released through Grossman. "They always have been out to destroy the farmworkers' right to organize and take away the hard-fought gains of the poorest and most abused workers in America."

Denise Davis, a spokeswoman for the legal foundation, said Sterling wasn't responsible for the decision to accept the case but that he will serve on the legal team for it. "This certainly is not any kind of personal issue," Davis said. "Our cases are not decided by one person. They are decided by our board of directors."

At issue is a law that generally gives the ALRB and mediators the power to set the terms of a labor  contract when negotiations fail. The law and the proposed regulations set out specific timelines to produce a contract. The ALRB is working on regulations to implement the new law.

In their suit, the farm groups argued that the new law is unconstitutional because it violates growers' property rights and their equal protection rights by denying growers the opportunity to reach voluntary collective bargaining agreements, said Mike Webb, an attorney for Western Growers.He also said there are unconstitutionally high standards for a new contract imposed under the new law to gain judicial review.

"We just couldn't stand to have this thing go into effect without challenging it with its illegalities and unconstitutional provisions," Webb said.

If it survives, Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League predicted the new law would force farmers to shut down their operations, to increase their use of machines or to go to crops that don't need as many employees. "It's sad because the people that will lose at the end of the day are the workers," Cunha said.

The UFW has argued that workers have been hurt by the failure of some farmers to bargain in good faith for years after employees have voted for a collective bargaining agreement.


HILDA M. MUNOZ, LOS ANGELES TIMES: About 60 tomato pickers from Florida picketed the Irvine, California headquarters of Taco Bell on Monday and began a hunger strike, accusing the Mexican-style fast-food chain of producing "sweatshop tacos."

Shaking picket signs shaped like tomatoes and Chihuahuas, a dog breed once used in Taco Bell advertising, the farm workers from Immokalee, Florida., protested low wages and a lack of paid overtime and health benefits from the companies that sell tomatoes to Taco Bell.

"Taco Bell doesn't produce fast food," said Lucas Benitez, 27. "Taco Bell produces exploitation food."

Monday's protest capped a four-day cross-country trip with rallies in five other cities. A larger protest is planned at Taco Bell's Irvine offices at midday Friday, organizers said.

Benitez, a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, said the group wants Taco Bell to pressure growers into improving working conditions and to pay growers an extra penny for each pound of tomatoes it  buys in order to boost pickers' wages. Currently, thelaborers earn between $7,000 and $7,500 a year, Benitez  said. A penny increase would nearly double workers'  earnings, according to some estimates.

But Taco Bell said the labor dispute is between the workers and their employers.

"The coalition efforts are misdirected," Taco Bell spokeswoman Laurie Gannon said. "They do not work for Taco Bell."

Gannon said Taco Bell bought only 2.8 million pounds of tomatoes from one Florida grower, for instance, accounting for less than one percent of the tomatoes distributed by the company.

"We don't have the influence they seem to think we have," she said.

Taco Bell executives, who met with coalition members during a similar protest a year ago, do not plan on meeting with workers again, Gannon said.

Timoteo Andrade Ramos, 34, one of the workers who made the trip by chartered and who joined the group's hunger strike Monday, said he is discouraging relatives from migrating to the United States because wages are not as good as they expect.

"The United States is not like what they think in Mexico," Ramos said. "I don't want them to come suffer the way I suffer."

ANN ZIMMERMAN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Wal-Mart Stores Inc., riding strong results in its international division, saw fiscal fourth-quarter net income jump 16% despite slowing sales at stores open at least a year and continuing weakness at its Sam's Club warehouse unit.

Characterizing the year as "exciting, challenging and in some cases troubling," Wal-Mart Chief Executive Lee Scott said he expects a good year ahead, even with "the headwinds" of slowing sales and expensing of stock options that will reduce full-year earnings by between two cents and three cents a share.

The Bentonville, Arkansas, retailer said it expected the sluggish trends to continue through the fiscal first quarter, with comparable-store sales predicted to increase by only two to four percent. Wal-Mart said it expects net per-share profit of 40 cents to 42 cents in the current quarter and $2 to $2.05 for the year. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call have been projecting earnings of 42 cents for the quarter and $2.05 for the year.

Wal-Mart reported net income of $2.53 billion, or 57 cents a share, for the quarter ended January 31, compared with $2.19 billion, or 49 cents a share, a year earlier. Sales climbed 11% to $71.07 billion from $64.21 billion. Sales at stores open a year or more, a measure closely watched in the retail industry, rose 2.7%.

"It was an astounding quarter, considering Wal-Mart was able to raise net earnings 16% in a tough economy, while the overall-market earnings were up seven percent," said Emme Kozloff, retail analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

Sluggish holiday sales resulted in higher-than-expected inventories at all of Wal-Mart's divisions at the end of the fiscal year. But the company said it expects to get back in line with its goal of inventory growing at half the rate of revenue growth. Margins, however, improved because of a better merchandise mix and lower merchandise theft and damage.

At the Wal-Mart division, which includes Supercenters, operating profit increased 16% to $3.59 billion, total sales rose 11% to $45.49 billion, and same-stores sales increased 3.3%.

Operating profit at the company's international unit soared 38% to $757 million, driven by double-digit comparable sales increases in the United Kingdom, where food and apparel sales were robust. Strong sales in Canada and Mexico, and improved results in Brazil, offset same-store-sales decreases caused by deflationary prices in China and South Korea.

Wal-Mart's Sam's Club division continued to lag behind the rest of the company, posting a fourth-quarter same-store sales gain of only 0.4% and a revenue increase of 5.2%. . . . . For the year, Wal-Mart posted net income of $8.04 billion, or $1.81 a share, compared with $6.67 billion, or $1.49 a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 12% to $244.52 billion from $217.80 billion a year earlier.


ROBERT SCHUBERT, EDITOR, CROP CHOICE: Robert Zoellick is at it again. Our trusted trade representative says China is simply not honoring its commitments to the World Trade Organization.

Zoellick seems surprised that China won't dismantle its domestic policies that protect family farmers. It's a similar story in India, Brazil and the European Union. In his view, such policies distort free trade.

It's different here in the good old US of A. President after president and Congress after Congress, both Democrat and Republican, have whittled away U.S. farm programs in the name of free trade, efficiency, or whatever term sounds good. In reality it's all about sticking the boot on the necks of family farmers to guarantee maximum profit for a transnational corporate cadre. That means charging farmers the maximum for seeds and fertilizers, paying them as little as possible for the crops they grow with those inputs, and then selling the final food product to the consumer for the maximum price.

No surprise many farmers are broke or nearly broke. It's basically damage control in farm country. That means hush money: the welfare-style income support that's keeping farmers quiet while they're put out to pasture, permanently.

The message to the American farmer is "lower your price, produce for less, get big or get out." They've complied for decades. They're farming more and more land and producing more and more homogenous commodity crops that the transnational companies can neatly process, package and ship anywhere and everywhere. In this the latest stage of global, industrial agriculture, farmers are planting genetically modified crops that allow them to work even more land with less effort so that they can go to town to get a job because Monsanto charged them an arm and a leg for the seed, and Cargill pays them less for the crop than it costs to produce. A rather nice arrangement for the corporations.

Although U.S. farmers have been going broke lowering their production costs, Chinese farmers can produce for less. But not cheap enough. That's why Zoellick wants China to scrap any and all programs that protect its farmers. Then the raw materials would cost even less for the traders and processors who export to and import from all countries the world over. Remember, buy low --- even if you have to steal it --- and sell high.

It didn't used to be this way.

Prior to the 1985 farm bill, price supports for farmers were based on the market. They established a price floor to give farmers some bargaining power. These "loan rates" worked much like the minimum wage. The government mandated that the companies buying the farmers' grain or livestock pay them a price at least equal to the cost of producing it. However, the farmers often received more. In those days before rampant corporate concentration, more buyers in the marketplace meant the producer prices were bid upward. The farmers actually made money. Quite a concept.

But things grew progressively worse. They reached the really bad stage in 1996 when Congress hatched Freedom to Farm. It axed the market based price support loan rates and replaced them with taxpayer-subsidized income supports. Now, Cargill and Crew don't have the government telling them they must pay farmers a reasonable price, or "living wage," for the crops. What's more, the constantly merging traders and processors connive and collude to manipulate the prices downward to poverty levels. As a result, farmers often receive far less than their cost of production. The taxpayer is left to make up the difference between what the farmers were paid and a level, or loan rate, determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This can't continue, and our leaders know it. On one side are the taxpayers, most of whom have no idea what's really happening with agriculture, questioning why they're subsidizing farmers. On the other side are countries like Brazil and China rightly insisting that they will not discontinue their domestic farm programs until we do.

At the anointed time it will happen. All that farmers will hear from the distant halls of Congress and the USDA is a faint "sorry." The farm programs will be gone. There'll be no more hush money. Farmers will leave the land in droves. Those who remain will farm, under contract, tens of thousands of acres of patented corn, soybeans, wheat and other commodity crops.

Meanwhile, with their global path largely cleared, Cargill, ConAgra, Monsanto, ADM, and a few others will be grinding down farmers in India, Brazil, China and everywhere. They're always looking to pay farmers a lower price for raw materials. It's a race to the bottom.

There's a word for it: Serfdom.

And to those who think they can just run to Wild Oats or Whole Foods and buy some organic food, think again. The big national and transnational corporations have been and are buying small organic food companies.

What are some of the answers?

First, bring back comprehensive, family farmer friendly policies, including and especially market-based price supports at the federal level. Along with that, local, state and national governments must encourage local and regional organic food production, processing, distribution and sales.

Second, tear down the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement, and dispense with this Free Trade of the Americas talk. Replace them with nothing or with FAIR trade agreements.

Finally, strip corporations of their "personhood." Return them to their pre-1886 days when they had only privileges, no rights. For more on that, go to:

* Americans revolt in Pennsylvania: New battle lines are drawn;
* Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy,

POSTSCRIPT: The next time you hear about the World Bank chipping in the bucks to build or improve infrastructure (e.g., a port or a wider river for barge traffic) in some faraway place, think about who benefits. Transnational agribusinesses that export to and import from the same countries around the world should come to mind.


ANNE C. MULKERN, THE DENVER POST: Food safety advocates February 11 charged that American food remains at high risk for contamination, ten years after E. coli-tainted hamburgers at Jack-in-the-Box killed four and sickened 700.

Safe Tables Our Priority --- the group that formed out of the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box incident --- announced legislation that would strengthen the U.S. Department of Agriculture's authority, giving it the ability to recall problem meat and close down plants with repeated safety violations. The group also called for the creation of a single government agency to prevent food contamination, and a better system to trace the source of contaminated meat and all the locations where tainted product has been shipped.

Finding where contaminated meat had been distributed became a problem last summer after a Greeley-based E. coli outbreak was linked to 45 illnesses, a  death and the second-largest meat recall in history. 'This is even more important now when we face a risk of bioterrorism, and bioterrorism of our food supply,' said Eric Schlosser, author of the best-selling 'Fast Food Nation,' which details the evolution of the fast-food industry and its influence, particularly in Colorado.

Food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, the group says in its 67-page report, citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate. The numbers are for all foods, not just meats.

Previous attempts to give the USDA the kind of authority that Safe Tables Our Priority wants have failed.

The USDA has said it does not need recall authority, because companies normally agree to voluntary recalls. The USDA says those are faster because the company knows where it sold the meat.

'Breaking the cycle of food-borne illness and improving human health is an important goal of the U.S. Department of Agriculture,' Elsa Murano, director of the USDA's food safety division said on Tuesday in a prepared statement. 'We welcome and appreciate the opportunity to work with groups like STOP, and hope that our partnership can one day achieve what we all desire --- the end to food-borne illness.'

Murano cited a May report by the CDC showing that food-borne illness declined 21 percent in the previous six years. President Bush's proposed 2004 budget allocates $ 899 million for food safety, Murano said, a 15% increase since 1991. The USDA in recent years has implemented new safety systems aimed at preventing contamination.

Despite this, Safe Tables Our Priority says, food-related illnesses are continuing. They say such illnesses are often not diagnosed, or are misdiagnosed. When such illnesses are confirmed, the group says, consumers have no way of knowing whether meat they see in the supermarket comes from the plant or other source where contamination occurred.

According to the group, only 43% of meat recalled by manufacturers from 1990 to 1997 was recovered. They presume the remainder --- more than 17 million pounds of meat --- was consumed.

The USDA has said it cannot publicly release product distribution information because it is proprietary. When it has distribution information, however, it does make it available to public health agencies, USDA spokesman Steven Cohen said. Murano has told The Denver Post that the food safety division of the USDA is not influenced by the USDA's agriculture promotion role.

But lawmakers supporting the food safety group said Congress should force the USDA to take a tougher stance.

"They frankly have abdicated their responsibility," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Dem.-Connecticut one of the sponsors of the legislation, which is named "Kevin's Law," after Kevin Kowalcyk, a two-year-old Wisconsin boy who died from E. coli poisoning in 2001. "I think it's time we impose responsibility on an agency that's mission is to protect public health."

                                         EDITOR'S NOTE

Preparing to post this 225th edition of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER it is gratifying to know that over 1100 people throughout the world are currently receiving it on a regular basis and judging from comments received feel it is a valuable source of information.However, it is also quite troubling to realize that less than 4.5% of that readership has ever seen fit to make any contributions toward its continued existence.

To that small cadre of contributors this editor can only express his profound gratitude and
appreciation for I realize that in some cases even a small donation was a sacrifice for them.

From the outset it was never the purpose of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER to
charge a subscription fee for the original intention of this newsletter was to get it into as many
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perspective, just as was the establishing of a web site
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Thanks to the generosity and creativity of the editor's oldest son David and his business
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Having said all this, may I repeat CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS are always and will
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