EXAMINER                            Issue # 49      October 5, 1999

Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective

A.V. Krebs

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Smithfield Foods Inc., of Smithfield, Virginia, already the world's largest hog producer and processor, after recently agreeing to buy the nation's second largest hog producer Murphy Family Farms of Rose Hill, North Carolina just wants to keep getting bigger and bigger.

The Murphy Farms purchase involved about 10 million shares of Smithfield Foods plus the assumption of about $170 million in Murphy Farms debt and other liabilities.

The report of the Smithfield-Murphy Farms merger was soon followed by the news that Tyson Foods, Inc., the nation's largest poultry processor, had signed a letter of intent to sell its wholly owned subsidiary The Pork Group, Inc. to Smithfield. Tyson will receive approximately 3 million shares, with certain restrictions, of Smithfield common stock in the transaction, which is expected to close on or about January 2, 2000.

"This transaction will be a very positive development for our people, our growers, our shareholders and for Smithfield Foods," said Wayne Britt, Tyson's CEO.  "The Pork Group employees and growers will be joining the premier pork company in the world, and Tyson Foods will be able to focus on making the world's premier chicken company even better."

“As we stated at the start of our fiscal year, we are going to do what we do best -- chicken," said Tyson Chairman John Tyson.  "We have done the things that we said we would do:  (1) Sell non-core Hudson assets, (2) Divest ourselves of seafood, and (3) Sell our pork business.  Our actions have placed these assets with industry leaders, allowing us to concentrate on chicken and grow our business."

In August 1997 after the nation learned of the recall of 25 million pounds of Hudson Foods ground beef and after 16 people in Colorado fell ill after eating patties tainted with the potentially deadly bacteria known as E. coli 0157:H7 came the news that IBP, one of the Hudson Foods plant suppliers, had bought the plants state-of-the-art Columbus, Nebraska plant and Tyson's had purchased the company.

Later, in a major move that further increased the growing concentration in the fishing industry Seattle, Washington-based Trident Seafoods announced last May that it was purchasing the Tyson Seafood Group making it one of the largest seafood companies in North America.

Trident received Tyson's sizable fishing rights, worth millions of dollars in the biggest single-species fishery in the world which enable it to expand its operations --- primarily buying and processing fish into products --- to catching fish as well as gaining about a dozen fishing, processing and freight vessels from Tyson Seafood, also based in Seattle. The agreement also added five processing plants throughout the Pacific Northwest to the eight plants in Alaska and Washington already owned by Trident.

The fact that the Smithfield-Tyson transaction is not a cash sale, but rather a stock transfer whereby Tyson's will become a major stockholder in Smithfield Foods occasioned one Midwest farmer to comment "if Smithfield and Tyson got together and said, `we are going to pay only so much for this and we're going to charge our customers so much for that,' they would be breaking the law. The key word is `we.' Getting together and fixing prices is illegal.

"Tyson, by acquiring Smithfield stock, gets the benefit of price fixing, since Smithfield now controls Tyson's hog business. There is no longer any `we,' and Tyson will get some nice Smithfield dividends. For them it’s a win-win situation, but not for the family farmer and consumer. No small producer can even come close to having the clout this newly created monster will have."

The Tyson Pork Group, headquartered in Rogers, Arkansas, has approximately 110,000 sows located in the states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and North Carolina that produce approximately 1.8 million market hogs a year.  These animals are grown by 250 contract growers who will be joining Smithfield Foods.

In 1998 Smithfield Foods had sales of $3.9 billion; owned 350,000 sows, according to Successful Farming's "Pork Powerhouses"; handled a volume of 5.5 million hogs a year with operations in  in North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Virginia and Utah. A subsidiary, Carroll's Foods Inc., also produces hogs in Brazil and Mexico. Its products also are sold in Japan and Mexico. With six meatpacking plants capable of handling 77,100 head daily, Smithfield's more than 20 company brands include John Morrell, Smithfield Premium, Gwaltney of Smithfield.

Murphy Farms in 1998 had, according to Forbes Magazine's "Top 500 Private Corporations," had sales of $650 million, owning 325,000 sows, according to Successful Farming's "Pork Powerhouses" and handling a volume of 5.5 million hogs produced with operations in Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Missouri.

Prior to the news of the sale the two companies have long been close business partners as Smithfield buys most of Murphy's hogs. The two companies were once partners in Circle 4, a joint venture now developing the world's largest hog farm on 50,000 acres in the high desert of southwest Utah. Smithfield bought out Murphy Farms' part of that venture two years ago.


Alarmed by what he terms the "dramatic changes in the production and marketing of live hogs,  marked by the spread of industrial hog operations and the decline of spot market transactions," USDA Secretary Dan Glickman has called upon U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to carefully investigate the proposed merger of  Smithfield Foods and Murphy Farms, the nation's two largest hog producers.

Glickman's request came just 24 hours prior to the announcement that Tyson Foods had sold its Pork Group to Smithfield Foods.

In Glickman's letter to Reno he warned that  "if Smithfield now acquires Murphy, it will effectively double in size to nearly 700,000 sows, which  is four times greater than its nearest competitor, Continental Grain Co." According to Glickman, if the merger is completed, Smithfield would control about 11% to 14% of  the nation's sows and Continental about two to three percent.

He also expressed his increased concern about the American hog industry, one in which its producers are suffering economically because of record low prices.

Most industrial pork processors, Glickman noted, acquire hogs through production contracts  with individual hog producers, rather than through the spot market, a trend that has many hog producers feeling left out of the competition for sales and less than half of Smithfield's annual hog slaughter is  procured in the spot market and "acquisition of Murphy Family Farms would reduce their presence in the spot market."

Specifically, Glickman asked Reno to analyze the potential acquisition's effect on:

* Prices paid to growers due to reduced opportunities to bargain with different contractors;

* The quantity of hogs traded on the spot market and the effect of a thinner spot market on prices paid to growers;

* The likelihood of significantly increased market power for Smithfield, with a concomitant increase in the potential for anti-competitive or predatory action;

* Packer-to-packer sales;

* And any regional effects on producers.

As the "urge to merge" among major U.S. agribusiness corporations continues almost unabated the policies and actions of the Anti-Trust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) become more puzzling, if not ludicrous, by the day.

Last week, for example the two government agencies proposed guidelines for joint ventures among businesses, indicating the sorts of agreements that do not violate federal antitrust laws.

The 35-page guide, according to the New York Times Joel Brinkley sets out the tests the two agencies will apply in determining whether to investigate or challenge a proposed joint venture. The guide does not definitively establish which ventures are legal and which are not, noting that each case has "unique characteristics."

In general, it states that "agreements among competitors" to "share or divide markets by allocating customers, suppliers, territories or lines of commerce" are automatically considered illegal and will be challenged. But when two companies in an otherwise competitive industry choose to "cooperate" in a way that does not significantly alter the competitive landscape, the likelihood is that the joint venture would be permitted, the guidelines say.

One indication, according to the guidelines, that a problem might exist is if the two companies, combined, hold more than 20% of the market.


In the beef packing industry IBP and Excel (the Cargill subsidiary) now control 60% of the industry; IBP and ConAgra control 59%, and Excel and ConAgra control 43% of the industry. In ready-to-eat cereal Kellogg and General Mills have 63.9% of the market share; Kellogg and Philip Morris (General Foods) have 48.4% market share; Kellogg and Quaker Oats have a  40.8% market share; General Mills and Philip Morris have a 48.3% market share; General Mills and Quaker Oats have a 40.7% share; Philip Morris and Quaker Oats have a 25.2% market share.

In bananas, where Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte have a 64 % world market share with Chiquita alone boasting a 26% market share; in fluid milk; in the supermarket industry; in grains; in transgenic seeds where Monsanto holds a 88% share based on area planted in 1998, and in many other specialty crops and food stuffs those single firms, let alone "two companies combined" market share figures exceeding 20% is staggering.
Robert Pitofsky, chairman of the Trade Commission, notes: "What we have strived for is a uniform standard. It's the first effort in this country to have guidelines that cut across all joint ventures -- research and development, marketing, patent, cross-licensing, production." The guidelines are merely proposals. They are now subject to comment for 90 days, after which time the agencies will decide whether to modify or approve them. At other times, the commission tries to block cooperation when one company's arrangement with another causes what the commissioners see as anti-competitive harm.


Ironic might be the understatement of the year in characterizing a recent report issued by the International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade (IPC) calling for the elimination of parastatal monopolies in the next round of world trade talks.

Although the Australian and Canadian Wheat Boards were not mentioned by name the IPC report bemoaned the fact that the monopoly power of such agricultural state-trading enterprises (STE's) "have the ability to distort domestic markets and international trade flows," even if they are not directly supported by government payments.

"As long as they enjoy exclusive powers or advantages not shared by their competitors, monopolies will not behave like `at risk' enterprises," the IPC said. "To end the resulting market distortions, the monopolies themselves should be eliminated, preferably by the end of the implementation period of the next round."

The IPC is an independent group, formed in 1987, comprised of corporate agribusiness executives, consultants and former government officials from 20 developed and developing countries who develop policy recommendations. Current members include Allen Andreas, chief executive of Archer Daniels Midland ("Supermarkup to the World"); Dean Kleckner, president of the American Farm Bureau; Lord Plumb of Coleshill, the former president of the European Parliament; and Aart de Zeeuw, former chairman of the agriculture negotiations committee of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Corporate agribusiness and their commodity group shills have long accused the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and Australian Wheat Board (AWB) of using their monopoly power to undercut prices in the world market. U.S. and European Union trade negotiators have made reform of STEs a top priority for the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) round.

STEs, according to the IPC report, can take a variety of forms and can distort markets in a variety of ways.They include:

* A government-supported monopoly can pay farmers more than it charges consumers and make up the difference with taxpayers fund or by selling imported products at inflated prices.

* Market promotion agencies can impede imports if they are allowed to collect an assessment on imported products. Even if domestic production is also assessed to fund market promotion activities, the fee on imports has the same effect as a tax.

* Voluntary collectives, or cooperatives, can distort trade if they have the power to enforce certain product standards or restrict the production or marketing of a particular product.

Australia and Canada, which are both members of the free-trade promoting Cairns Group of nations, have pledged to defend their wheat boards in the upcoming negotiations. At a recent Cairns Group meeting in Buenos Aires, Reuters News Service reports , the CWB defended itself, saying it had proven itself to operate "in a squeaky clean manner in respect to international trade law."

The IPC, however, said it believes that parastatal monopolies can distort trade by underpricing exports, controlling commodity movements and limiting the access of buyers to supplies.

No mention was made in the IPC report of the recent findings of the U.S. Department of Justice in its "Complaint" opposing the sale of Continental Grain's commodity trading division to Cargill, the world's largest grain trader. In that complaint the DofJ pointed out  that the sale would "substantially lessen competition for purchases of corn, soybeans, and wheat in each of the relevant geographic markets, enabling it unilaterally to depress the prices paid to farmers. The proposed transaction will also make it more likely that the few remaining grain trading companies that purchase corn, soybeans, and wheat in these markets will engage in anticompetitive coordination to depress farm prices."


Characterized as a U.S. Department of Justice (DofJ) "investigation" into whether Cargill's announced purchase of the grain merchandising division of Continental Grain violated any of the nation's anti-trust laws the DofJ's inquiry in fact occasioned the government agency to file a formal "Complaint" with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

However, the DofJ totally neutralized its "Complaint" by filing it on the same day (July 8, 1999) and at the same time that it furtively filed a consented "Final Judgment," agreed to by all parties. While the DofJ's "Final Judgment" now awaits the final approval of presiding U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, the public comment period regarding the Department's decision remains open until October 12.

The "Antitrust Procedures and Penalties Act" (APPA) of the U.S. Code provides that any person may submit to the United States written comments regarding the proposed "Final Judgment." Any person who wishes to comment should do so by October 12. The comments and the response of the United States will be filed with the Court and published in the Federal Register.

Written comments should be submitted to:

Roger W. Fones
Chief, Transportation, Energy & Agriculture Section
Antitrust Division
United States Department of Justice
325 Seventh Street, N.W., Suite 500
Washington, DC 20530

Legal precedent, according to the DofJ, requires that "[t]he balancing of competing social and political interests affected by a proposed antitrust consent decree must be left, in the first instance, to the discretion of the Attorney General. The court's role in protecting the public interest is one of insuring that the government has not breached its duty to the public in consenting to the decree.

"The court is required to determine not whether a particular decree is the one that will best serve society, but whether the settlement is `within the reaches of the public interest.' [A] proposed decree must be approved even if it falls short of the remedy the court would impose on its own, as long as it falls within the range of acceptability or is `within the reaches of public interest.'."

Whether or not Judge Kessler concludes that the consent decree is "within the reaches of public interest" the corporate audaciousness of Cargill in attempting to totally control this nation's grain trade with its purchase of Continental grain assets is breathtaking.  One need only look at the facts brought to light in the DofJ's "Complaint" to see such covertness. (Issue #45)

Letters specifically demonstrating and\or documenting the impact of Cargill's monopoly of the grain trade and how the Continental purchase will affect that situation on one's own family farm operation or upon the rural community in which one lives will be most valuable.Copies of such letters should also be sent to the letter writer's state attorney general's office urging that office at the same time to utilize their good offices in not only calling upon the U.S. Department of Justice to revisit its "investigation" of the Cargill\Continental sale, but requesting that the deadline for comment be extended another sixty days to December 12.


Burning an effigy of Poland's Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and chanting "thieves, thieves" tens of thousands of farmers and workers recently paraded through Warsaw to press the Government for better wages and job security.

Their protest was among the many taking place in recent weeks throughout the European continent as a catastrophic fall in farm prices, resulting into a strong decline in total farm income, and additional cuts in support payments for agriculture by the various governments and the European Union have combined to paint a grim picture for EU's farm economy and its future.

In Great Britain, for example,  which has taken the lead in the European agriculture's downturn, farmers have started to cull their animals, because they can no longer afford to feed them. Especially older lambs are practically unsalable. London's Daily Telegraph prints photos, showing farmers standing in a heap of dead lambs preparing to bury them in a mass grave. The paper quotes one of them, saying: "We are farmers and it is our job to produce food for people to eat, not to act as slaughtermen."

In other places like in North Wales, for instance, farmers dumped 300 sheep at an animal welfare center, telling the animal rights' people to take care of them.

On the continent, farmers and farm organizations have been staging protest actions to alarm the public. In south Germany, there have been numerous local and regional demonstrations, leaflettings, confrontations with politicians.. In France, where protests have been staged for many weeks all over the country, farmers have declared "a war for the profits in the food trade."

Their battle has been marked by the steadily growing pressure by the big chains in the food market, who have been lowering the prices they pay to the farmers and then in turn lowering consumer prices thus allowing them to expand their market share. One corporation singled out by the protesting French farmers has been the McDonalds Corporation.

One McDonald's restaurant under construction was completely destroyed by farmers. By their actions against McDonalds, the striking farmers say they want to protest against what they call the "aggressive policy of the United States against European farmers" in respect to the upcoming of the World Trade Organization negotiations.

Last week in Paris small farmers, leftwing politicians, union leaders and green activists united in a show of force in a simmering rebellion that has caught the French Government offguard and seems to be gathering momentum as a political force two months ahead of talks on a new world trade pact in Seattle, Washington.

To popular acclaim, the farmers have been calling for a national struggle against "le mal bouffe" (lousy grub), which they say is being foisted on France by American industrial interests. Jose BovT, the mustachioed hero of the peasant-farmers revolt, was the star at a Paris rally to denounce the WTOas a plot to "enslave political power permanently to the interests of transnational business."

Le Figaro said that the rebellion was "not folklore" but was the sign of growing determination by people to retain their sense of identity and quality of life. "Faced with the tyranny of modernity, the revolt invites the powerful to obey morality and good sense."

In Poland, the Associated Press reports, exhausted by 10 years of economic difficulty in the transition from Communism, Andrzej Lepper, urged the Government to resign, saying it was working under "the dictate of the rotten West."
Some 30,000 people marched marched about two miles from Marshal Pilsudski Square, in the heart of Warsaw, to Parliament, and delivered a petition to Maciej Plazynski, the speaker of the lower chamber. Later the protesters rallied at the Cabinet office.

"The Government is cheating us, promising a lot and giving nothing," charged Bronislaw Wiatr, a 42-year-old farmer. "They have brought a lot of poverty to the village since the early 1990's."

A banner from the Lucznik rifle factory, which is on the verge of bankruptcy, read: "We want to live and work with dignity."

Marian Krzaklewski, the Solidarity chairman, also warned, against downplaying the significance of the demonstration, at which protesters were burning the blue European Union flag. The Government, which is hoping to have Poland enter the European Union in 2002, has also begun restructuring industries to make them profitable and competitive, at the cost of many jobs.

Farmers want more Government subsidies and guarantees of higher prices for their produce. Other people, from teachers and doctors to blue-collar workers, want job guarantees and higher pay.


Reaching out through its network of over 1,200 natural and organic food stores/coops, farmer's markets and Community Support Agriculture programs around the country The Organic Consumers Association has launched a nationwide effort to encourage consumers to sign on to Food Agenda 2000.

The Food Agenda 2000 petitions will ultimately be sent to the year 2000 Presidential candidates, regulatory officials, and members of Congress. In addition, year 2000 candidates in targeted races will be presented with the petitions collected by over 100 volunteers from around the country will work within the store network and on their own.

"Our political representatives, government bureaucrats, and the food industry have ignored the colossal shift in consumer desires for safe, healthy, naturally-grown food," said Campaign Director Ronnie Cummins. "Instead, they continue to push policies that consumers don't want --- particularly with regard to genetically engineered foods, which they continue to allow on the market untested, and unlabeled."

Specifically, the Food Agenda 2000 is calling for: 1) An immediate moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops; 2) stop factory farming --- a phase-out of industrial agriculture; and 3) a minimum of 30% organic by the year 2010.

Cummins points out that currently five million consumers buy organic food regularly. According to recent surveys 25% of American consumers buy organic or natural foods each week. In 1998, nearly 300,000 organic consumers blasted the US Department of Agriculture when the agency tried to weaken national organic standards.

Likewise, consumers in Europe, Japan, and Australia have pressured their governments and the biotech industry to delay the approval of new genetically engineered foods, establish strong labeling requirements, and halt the planting of genetically engineered crops.

American consumers, according to Cummins, have been kept in the dark about genetically engineered food due to a 1992 policy by the Food and Drug Administration which does not require the labeling or safety testing of genetically engineered foods prior to entering the marketplace.

"Food Agenda 2000 marks an escalation of consumer activism in the U.S. concerning genetically engineered foods and crops," said Ben Lilliston, Communications Director at the Organic Consumers Association. "The organic food market is exploding and much of it can be traced to consumers' concerns about genetic engineering and other forms of industrial agriculture."

Despite consistent polling data showing between 80% and 95% of Americans support the labeling of genetically engineered foods and crops, U.S.  regulatory agencies and elected representatives the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the USDA, continue to allow over 40 genetically engineered crops to be planted and enter the marketplace with virtually no safety testing.

Meanwhile, over a billion pesticides will be dumped on U.S. crops this year as US farms are quickly becoming industrial factories, using hormone implants, antibiotics and promoting animal cannibalism by feeding rendered animals to animals while family farmers disappear under the corporate/industrial model of farming even as US policy makers continue to block substantive policy changes.

The organic food industry has grown 20% every year since 1989, and is projected to increase to five percent of the market by the year 2001. There are currently 10,000 organic farms in the US. Yet, this organic revolution has occurred without the help of the USDA, which spends less than two percent of its research dollars on organic agriculture while at the same time it aggressively pushes genetic engineering and industrial agriculture in the U.S. and around the world.

The Organic Consumers Association is a non-profit, consumer advocacy organization working to make organic agriculture the dominant form of food and fiber production in the U.S. and around the world. The Campaign for Food Safety is a project of the Organic Consumers Association. The Campaign is dedicated to informing consumers about the problems of industrial agriculture including genetic engineering, irradiation, and mad cow disease. The Campaign is a global clearinghouse for information and grassroots technical assistance.

Copies of the Food 2000 Agenda and accompanying fact sheet can be viewed and downloaded from the web sites:


"The biggest irony of our farm policy is when it tries to help the family farm. It often just mucks things up. This year is a good example. Most people are struggling, but a few farmers were aggressive marketers who forward sold part of this year's crop before prices collapsed. I've talked to some who say they're doing OK. When Uncle Sam sends them farm aid checks, it's just an extra bonus that helps them outbid everyone else on land (if they're so inclined). Thoughtful observers of federal farm policy argue that well-meaning programs have sped up farm consolidation for decades. No matter what the pros and cons, federal aid will get smaller the next time there's a recession or when presidential candidates have moved beyond Iowa.

"Realistic options for Washington

"The bottom line: the federal government can help small business owners like farmers in small ways. It can’t outlaw supply and demand. Here's what it can do:

"Require more market transparency and tougher antitrust enforcement. Congress appears ready to do something. (But, when many family hog producers benefit from contracts, do you really think USDA or Congress will end them?)

"Use export loan guarantees and food aid more aggressively. (This can backfire the next time we try to open up markets. Ask the Australians if they think our export loan guarantees are free trade.)

"Open up more sanction-blocked markets. Cuba is the obvious one. (But remember, South Korea can buy more in a day than Cuba will all year.)

"Pass a bill by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Dem.-Ohio) to strengthen the Agricultural Fair Practices Act. This would give farmer associations real power to bargain with the likes of IBP and Cargill.

"Best policy: do the right thing We must realize that Freedom to Farm is a fairy tale. The days of filling the planter and waiting until fall to decide what to do with the crop are over. Setasides are not. But the day is coming when Cargill and ADM may determine the setaside. Those with contracts with a buyer will plant. Those without contracts will be the set-aside. (That’s why Kaptur's bill is a necessity for the twenty-first century. It offers contract farmers a way to keep independence and more of the food dollar.)"

--- Excerpt:  "Beware of politicians bearing gifts when corn costs $1.50," by Dan Looker, Successful Farming, September, 1999.


One of America's great actors --- George C. Scott --- recently died. Scott will not only be remembered as Gen. George S. Patton Jr. in the movie "Patton," as Shakespeare's Richard III (in Central Park), as Gen. Buck Turgidson in "Dr. Strangelove"  and as the conscientious social worker in television's "East Side, West Side," but also for his roles in countless other films and plays during his outstanding career.

In 1985 he performed in CBS-TV's "The Christmas Carol" as Charles Dicken's immortal Ebenezer Scrooge. In one scene, Scrooge stops at his club on his way home on Christmas Eve where he encountered two business associates who seek to buy a shipment of corn from the miserly trader.

"If you want my corn gentlemen, you must meet my quote, plus five percent for the delay!"

"That's outrageous Scrooge, you'll be left with a warehouse stuffed with corn."

"Well, that's my affair, isn't it? Buy the corn someplace else, good day sir."

"Scrooge, a moment. We'll take your corn at the price you quoted yesterday."

"Too late! you wait until tomorrow and it will cost you another five percent!"

"Damn it Scrooge, it's not fair!"

"No, but it's business!"

George C. Scott (1928-1999) R.I.P.