EXAMINER                                                 Issue # 98        November 30, 2000

Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective

A.V. Krebs


Without comment the U.S. Supreme Court has turned down appeals by former Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) executives Michael D. Andreas and Terrance S. Wilson of their convictions of conspiring to fix the $650 million annual global market in lysine, a livestock feed additive.

Andreas was vice chairman of ADM, "Supermarkup to the World," and Wilson was president of the company's corn processing division.

Convicted in September 1998, the two along with company biochemist and business executive Mark Whitacre, were charged with conspiring with Japanese and Korean competitors to fix the world lysine market, a soybean-based additive used to promote growth in hogs and poultry.

Their convictions were upheld in June by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also ruled that the sentences imposed on the two were too light. In September, a federal judge in Chicago increased Andreas' sentence from two years to three years, and Wilson's sentence from two years to two years and nine months.

In the appeals acted on Monday, lawyers for Andreas and Wilson said they were improperly convicted of agreeing to divide sales of lysine without any jury finding of whether they intended to restrain trade.The appeals also claimed the 7th Circuit court wrongly substituted its findings for those of the judge when it sent the cases back for new sentences.

ADM paid $100 million in fines after pleading guilty in 1996 to conspiring to fix prices for lysine and citric acid.


With each day the opposition to the proposed $4.1 billion takeover of IBP Inc., the nation's largest beef packer by Smithfield Foods, the nation's largest pork producer and processor, continues to grow.

Joining already calls by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Department of Agriculture, the National Farmers Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) last week saw scores of independent cattle and hog producers, and the National Farmers Organization (NFO), which voiced opposition to the acquisition, because regional and local hog markets could dry up for many U.S. producers.

"This deal could well mean the end to a free market system in America's livestock sector, which means open price discovery for the value of hogs simply could not happen," said Brian Harris, Director of Livestock for NFO. "The loss of another competitive player could lead quickly to a monopolistic domination of markets, and further fuel the demise of an independent hog producing system."

At the same time representatives of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) and the
Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment were branding the buyup as "an outrageous example of unfettered corporate expansion" which must be stopped.

"First Smithfield bought John Morrell, then Dakota Pork, then Murphy Farms, and now they want IBP," said Mark Schultz, Policy Program director for the LSP, a member organization of the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment.  "That means family farm hog producers are being systematically excluded from the market.  This needs to stop now, and it will stop.  We will fight and win and stop this all-out attempt at market control by Joe Luter and Smithfield."

As reported in Issue #97 Smithfield CEO Joseph W. Luter III has hired Joel Klein, former head of the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice, to advise him on the buyout.

"Klein's profiting off his past position, in a way that greases the wheels for Smithfield's empire-building, is corruption, pure and simple," said Minnesota hog farmer and Land Stewardship Project member Monica Kahout.  "We reject this kind of blatant greed by Klein and Luter, and so will the American people.  Smithfield is in for a fight."

"Klein was weak on antitrust action in agriculture then, and now he has joined the other side," said Kahout.  "This revolving door between industry and government is wrong and must be stopped."

The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment is the multi-state coalition that called for the nationwide referendum on the mandatory pork checkoff.  Thousands of hog farmers across the country joined that campaign.  The results of the vote are expected by the end of the year.

It was IBP executives who in October sought to purchase their own company, based in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, for $3.8 billion in cash and assumed debt, with the help of a management and private-equity fund controlled by Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc.New York City, thus making IBP  a private company if such an offer is approved by shareholders next year.

The privatization offer has been criticized as too cheap by many shareholders, who stand to receive $22.25 a share under it. Their ranks include Smithfield, which holds 6.6 percent of IBP's 106 million shares of common stock. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), which holds 12.2% of the meat packer's shares, is part of the buyup group.

In recent proxy material filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) IBP has  revealed that 15 shareholder lawsuits have been filed against the directors of the company objecting to its $2.4 billion plan to go private.

If the leveraged buyout is approved by IBP shareholders, DLJ would receive $84 million in fees for organizing the transaction and arranging financing, the IBP proxy discloses. Robert L. Peterson, IBP's 68-year-old CEO, would serve for an additional two years in the post, for which he would receive an annual salary of $1 million. Peterson would also be granted $21 million of equity in the surviving company for the life of a five-year employment contract.

Several large shareholders and some Wall Street investors favor Smithfield chief executive Luter, who has a history of putting shareholder interests foremost while cutting costs, like the price the company pays farmers for hogs.

Smithfield's current $25 a share offer for IBP is the most generous offer now before a special committee of IBP board members.

Christine McCracken, a food industry analyst for Midwest Research, Cleveland, told the Omaha World-Telegram's Victor Epstein that  the Smithfield-IBP merger would lead to a company better suited to survive the commodity market's cyclical downturns. It would also provide more capital for IBP's foray into prepackaged and prepared meats.

"From the standpoint of investors, the Smithfield offer is a really good deal," McCracken said. "It sucks if farming is a way of life for you, but that's kind of  the way of the world."

Luter is attempting to deal with the concerns of Midwest hog growers by running full-page advertisements in nine newspapers, emphasizing his commitment to farmers and Smithfield's financial prowess. He points to the 1,700 farmers that provide it with ten million hogs annually as evidence of its commitment to farmers.

In the ads, Luter said hog farmers would be better served if his company acquired IBP, instead of allowing it to borrow heavily in order to privatize itself. "This isn't just talk," said Luter. "My family has been in this business for three generations. We understand the independent farmer (and) we have a clear common interest with other hog producers in ensuring that hog farming remains a viable economic enterprise."

Smithfield has expressed a willingness to divest itself of some plants to reduce antitrust concerns raised by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. If Smithfield acquires IBP, the two would have a combined hog market share of 37%.

It has been reported that National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) leaders are interested in buying an IBP or Smithfield pork processing plant if one becomes available as a result of the buyout.  Such a move could help satisfy potential government antitrust concerns related to Smithfield's acquisition of IBP.

"That just shows you where the NPPC is at --- where they've always been," said
Rhonda Perry, Missouri hog farmer and program director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, a member of the Campaign for Family Farms. "They're facilitating the corporate takeover of the hog industry.  But we won't let it happen."

Meanwhile, Smithfield has reported record second-quarter earnings, earning $44.6 million for the three months ending October 22. A year ago, Virginia-based Smithfield earned $22.2 million for the same period. For the first six months, net income totaled $89.1 million, dramatically up from $29.1 million a year earlier. Revenues for the second quarter were $1.43 billion, up from $1.23 billion a year ago. First-half sales were $2.85 billion, up from $2.37 billion in 1999.


In issue #97 the quote that "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this Smithfield -IBP merger ends up handing the packers the next round of single digit hogs. All it will take is DofJ forcing Smithfield to sell off a couple of plants in the fringe areas of the Midwest as a condition of allowing the merger. Then there will be no new buyer to run the plant and we are right back to the exact situation as 1998 ---.more hogs than shackle space --- or at least that's what they say. Smithfield will then be able to say we really wanted to keep those packing plants open but it was beyond our control" was attributed to former Illinois hog farmer Greg Carr. In fact the statement was made by hog farmer Greg Gunthorp.


Despite wide-spread community opposition the Western United States is becoming inundated with mega-sized hog farms.

The latest example of such an invasion is plans by Ron Achs, a Ketchum, Idaho investor who is seeking through Big Sky Farming Group LLC, an Idaho limited liability company, to establish a 55,000 sow,  farrow-finishing operation in the state's southern plains.

As Feedstuffs Steve Marbery reports Achs' factory farm has been on the drawing board for at least two years, beginning as Sawtooth Farms and evolving
into Big Sky. Partners include Pat Florence of Independent Meat, Twin Falls,
Idaho, and an Idaho farmer who will raise hogs on contract.

Developers acquired 4,500 acres in Idaho's Cassia County last year. The cropping operation once contained a dairy. Located near a small unincorporated community near the Raft River, a Snake River tributary, the area is home to at least 70 farm families. Some 1,500 residents have petitioned against the project. Cassia County ordinances and new state rules on large swine operations were stimulated by the Raft River showdown.

While new state regulations on large swine units and county ordinances require conditional hog permits, the state department of environmental quality (DEQ) recently conceded that an application for the Cassia County mega-swine project is in the final review process.

One reason for opposition to hogs in southern Idaho has been an explosion in
dairies, which are not regulated by the state. Southern Idaho's growing
rural population and environmental lobby views industrial pork as a threat
to their water, air and quality of life.

As Marbery reports "blood is boiling along the Raft River, where farmers and ranchers prefer wheat, beef cows and sugar beets to intensive pork systems. They also are concerned about vague plans for a packing plant. Independent Meats is a small facility, as slaughter plants go. Developers have told regulators a much larger pork packing plant is planned."

At the same time there has been an explosion in recent years in southern Idaho in dairies, which are not regulated by the state. Southern Idaho's growing rural population and environmental lobby views industrial pork as a threat to their water, air and quality of life.

If DEQ approves the permit, the county planning and zoning board and commission must review plans and hold public hearings. Adopted this spring, county regulations require large operations to obtain special-use permits.

Southern Idaho's plight is strikingly similar to the situation in southwestern Utah where  Smithfield Foods's Circle Four Farms  pork operations began over a decade ago.

"It's an industry that is completely out of control," according to Utah's Beaver County Deputy Attorney David Doxey. At a recent state Water Quality Board meeting Doxey said that not only had the odor from the Circle Four Farms poisoned the summer pastime of barbecuing in nearby Milford, but also spoiled the quality of life in general for Circle Four's neighbors. He asked for the state's help in finding a way to control the smells, despite the company's insistence the complaints are overblown

Circle Four's Steve Pullman, who also appeared at the meeting to outline Smithfield's efforts to protect the air, land and water affected by its 15,000-hog facility ---  the 17th-largest hog farm in the country, disputed Doxey's assessment, calling it "conjectural."

"Mr. Doxey's comments are gross embellishments of the reality, and he should check the facts," Pullman told the board. He added that most people in the community support Circle Four.

Company representatives said Circle Four is helping underwrite studies on better technology for processing the waste and minimizing its effects. Pullman maintained any odor regulation should be "science-based," rather than based on subjective opinion.

People in Milford, 12 miles from Circle Four, however, complain that the pig farm stink is unbearable. Iron County administrative manager Bryan Harris echoes some of Beaver County's concerns about Circle Farms' operation as the county is trying to address the problem by attaching requirements to the company's conditional-use permit, he said.

Meanwhile, Beaver County is developing an odor ordinance. The planning commission is on its third draft and is expected to pass on the new law to the county commission early next year.

But Doxey said local government feels frustrated by having too little regulatory and technical expertise to make the limitations on odors stick. Local government needs the Legislature's help, he said.

Lawmakers, as Salt Lake City Tribune's Judy Fahy reports, have backed away from implementing state controls in the past. They chose to leave it up to local government to decide whether to have the industrial livestock operations and how to regulate the ones they have approved.

Meanwhile, Smithfield Foods moves ahead with its plans to spend an estimated $11 million for expansion, intending to triple its size.


"We were blinded by our own enthusiasm," conceded  Monsanto Chief Executive Hendrik Verfaillie before a Farm Journal conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday. "We  focused so much on getting this technology right for the grower that we didn't fully take into account the issues and concerns it raised for other people."

Verfaillie's corporate mea culpa came as Monsanto Co., the biggest corporate booster of genetically engineered food promised to back off from some controversial technologies and take bigger steps to promote food safety by promising to be receptive to increased regulation.
In addition, he pledged never to use animal or human genes in modified crops and promised to sell products commercially only after they are approved for consumption by humans as well as livestock.

In an interview prior to his speech Verfaille told the Dow Jones Newswires' Desiree J. Hanford that the St. Louis, Missouri company began realizing about a year ago that the approach it had been taking toward explaining biotechnology and its benefits was flawed. It was an approach that said Monsanto had all the answers and that if the rest of the world would simply listen, concerns about genetically engineered crops would be resolved. It was an approach, or tone, Verfaillie acknowledged that "was seen as arrogant."

"We realized that approach wasn't right and that we had to do as much listening as possible," Verfaillie told Hanford. "So we decided to change. The IPO and focus only on agriculture gave us a good opportunity to say, `We realize we may not have done everything right.' Our science is right but our behavior isn't."

In his speech Verfaillie discussed elements in five areas outlining Monsanto's policy for the development, use and management of new agricultural technologies.

First, an ongoing dialogue with parties to understand the issues and concerns about biotechnology. Monsanto plans to create a Biotechnology Advisory Council to advise the company on its biotechnology practices.

Second, Monsanto plans to make published scientific data and data summaries on product safety and benefits available to the public. This includes supporting a mandatory pre-market notification process for Food and Drug Administration review of all biotechnology products in the U.S.

Third, Monsanto says it is committed to "respecting the religious, cultural and ethical concerns" that people have through a number of steps, including not marketing commodity grain products until they've been approved for human and animal consumption.

Fourth, sharing agricultural information of all types to farmers in developing countries.

Fifth, Monsanto plans to deliver both environmental and commercial benefits to farmers. This includes the company's intent to launch new genetically improved commodity crops in the U.S. only after they have received approval for humans and animals in the U.S. and Japan. The company plans to extend that to Europe once there is a working regulatory system there.

"It's difficult to tell how all of this will be received by biotechnology critics, although it's important that it is," Verfaillie told Hanford in his interview. The company has had a dialogue for several months with a wide variety of people, including scientists and foundations, and the feedback from that group was "enormously positive," he said.

"But obviously saying it isn't enough," Verfaillie added. "It comes down to whether we're going to do it and follow through on our promises. So there will likely be some skepticism on whether we'll follow through and that's why we intend to report the progress we make on a regular basis."

Such skepticism was immediately voiced by Julie Miles, a co-founder of the anti-biotech coalition Genetically Engineered Food Alert. "Monsanto's acknowledgement that they've rushed this technology is meaningful, but if Monsanto truly wants to respond to consumer concerns, it should support mandatory testing and mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods."

The company's new posture on genetically engineered crops and food comes only a few months after Monsanto's merger with Pharmacia & Upjohn to form Pharmacia Corp. Last month, Pharmacia took its St. Louis merger partner's agricultural products operation public through an initial offering of a 15% stake. Pharmacia, of Peapack, New Jersey, retains an 85% holding in what it refers to as the "New Monsanto."

"We are at the crossroads with biotechnology," Verfaillie told Hanford. "One one hand, biotechnology offers very significant benefits to growers, the environment and eventually healthier foods. On the other hand, there are a number of people who have concerns. As a leader, we want to send out a very strong message that we will answer questions or concerns about this technology."


Maintaining that with genetically engineered crops now being "widely grown," it is virtually impossible to ensure that a bag of non-GE seeds does not have a few genetically engineered ones mixed in, the American Seed Trade Association and its corporate members are renewing efforts to establish standards that would allow a small amount of genetically engineered material in bags of seeds and still have those seeds considered free of modification.

Insisting on absolute purity, the Trade Association says, would bog down the world seed trade.
"Ultimately, we're looking to prevent potential disruption in seed trade as a result of the presence of genetically enhanced material," Angela Dansby, a spokeswoman for the trade group, which represents seed producers and distributors, told the New York Times Andrew Pollack.

The seed group wants that level set at one percent. It and counterparts in several other countries like Canada, Australia and Argentina, hope to test out this level in an experiment, Dansby said. But the European Union has been pushing for a lower, stricter standard closer to 0.5 percent. Europeans have been alarmed by some cases this year in which genetically modified seeds were planted by farmers who thought they were growing non modified crops.

USDA representatives at a recent meeting were noncommittal on the seed industry proposal. At that meeting the Seed Trade Association urged the establishment of the aforementioned  tolerance levels, their request coming after last week's discovery that the telltale protein from the genetically engineered StarLink corn was also found in some seed corn not sold as StarLink.

While the reason for that contamination is not known, one possibility, Pollack reports, is there could have been a mix-up in seed handling at the Garst Seed Company, which produced both StarLink seeds and the seed containing the StarLink protein, which has been approved for animal use but not human consumption because of  concerns it could cause allergic reactions Cross-pollination of one crop by the other is another possibility.


"We've waited a long time for the churches to get involved in alleviating the injustices in an industry that is a major part of the agricultural production of most Southern states.  The recent statement from the Catholic Bishops of the South puts churches in the forefront of the battles for justice in the way we produce our food in this nation."
                                    --- Mary Clouse, Director, Contract Ag Reform Project,

Some 41 of the 47 Catholic Bishops of the South have recently signed a pastoral letter that focuses on the poultry industry. Bishops Joseph Gossman of Raleigh and William Curlin of Charlotte signed the 23-page document.

The Bishops specifically expressed their concerns about the long working hours, low wages, inadequate health and safety measures, and dangerous jobs endured by processing plant workers, catchers, and truck drivers.

The Bishops also addressed the unfair contract situations faced by poultry farmers (growers).  Contracts of adhesion signed after the grower mortgages his farm and home allow the poultry companies to manipulate grower payments and shift industry risks such as disposal of chicken carcasses and manure to the growers.  Binding arbitration clauses in the contracts prevent the growers from seeking relief in a court of law.

Reacting to the letter  Darrell Sanders, President of the North Carolina Contract Poultry Growers Association., Siler City, North Carolina, observed "The North Carolina poultry growers are very pleased with the Bishop's letter.  It shows that they are with us in our struggle for reform and fairness in the poultry industry here in this state."

Echoing Sanders remarks was Larry Holder, Executive Director, National Contract Poultry Growers Assoc., Sanford, N.C."The 41 Bishops of the South speak for the area of the nation where most of the poultry production takes place.  They have made a powerful statement in support of basic human rights and fair business practices --- things the National Contract Poultry Growers Assoc. works on everyday."

Text of the Bishop's letter can be viewed at


Exhibiting worse nutrition, higher cholesterol and more alarming blood pressure statistics than the general population, "California's farm workers health is a depressing picture, with no easy answers," said David Lighthall, executive director at the California Institute for Rural Studies (CIRS), in a report recently released by his group and the California Endowment.

The report, which the authors point out is the first comprehensive study of farmworker health ever done in California, studied 971 farmworkers, chosen at random to represent the state's estimated 700,000 agricultural laborers. In addition to asking questions about their ailments, health insurance status, income and other demographic facts, the study took blood samples and performed physical exams to obtain objective data about farmworker health.

"It is a tragedy and more than a little ironic that the labor force that is responsible for producing such a great abundance of healthy food in California should themselves be suffering from the effects of poor nutrition," said the executive summary of the 48-page document.

Two thirds of the farmworkers were U.S. citizens, green card holders or legal aliens in the process of getting green cards, Lighthall, one of the report's principal authors, notes.  As a result of their legal status and low income, they are eligible to apply for MediCal, the state's health insurance of last resort.

Yet, only seven percent of the farmworkers surveyed took advantage of MediCal, because the rules of the system force them to reapply when they cross county lines, a tough requirement for itinerant workers. "It's almost as if they were trying to prevent people from signing up," Lighthall said.

Among the report's major findings:

* Nearly 80% of the respondents were overweight, with 28% of the men and 37%  of the women being classified as obese.

* Male farmworkers had higher serum cholesterol levels on average than the general adult population, while male and female farmworkers alike had a higher incidence of high blood pressure, early precursors of heart disease and stroke.

* Respondents, 96% of whom were Latino, reported a median income under $10,000. Nearly 70% lacked any form of health insurance. And even among the 16.5 percent whose employers did offer a health benefit, only one out of three took advantage. The rest could not afford the copayments.

Responding to the report Bob Krauter, a spokesperson for the California Farm Bureau,  the main trade association for the state's $26.8 billion agricultural industry, told the San Francisco Chronicle's Tom Abate that his organization's members are struggling with higher fuel prices and falling commodity prices, and simply cannot afford more for  worker health care. "You can't assume that if a farmer provides health insurance, that  consumers are going to pay more for their produce," he said.

The California Institute for Rural Studies is a nonprofit group in Davis that studies a range of rural issues in the state.The Endowment, which sponsored the study,based in Woodland Hills (Los Angeles County), is a $3.7 billion foundation created in 1996, when the nonprofit HMO Blue Cross transformed itself into the for-profit WellPoint Health Networks.

The Endowment has requested that former California Rep. Esteban Torres bring together a dozen policy makers to recommend ways to address the farmworker health crisis. "I look forward to working with the task force that is being created to address the issues raised in the study," adds Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the state's senior Latino elected official.

A copy of the report can be viewed at:


Farm, trade, labor and environmental activists throughout the world were shocked and saddened this week to learn of the tragic death of Rachel Anne Gaschott Ritchie, 21, daughter of Nancy Gaschott and Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Fatally injured in an automobile accident by a drunken driver in the early morning hours of November 26 she died a few hours later at the Hennepin County Medical Center.

Rachel's life will be celebrated at 4:00 PM CST on Saturday, December 2nd, at the First Universalist Church, 34th and Dupont Avenue South in Minneapolis.  A reception at the church will follow. Details can be obtained by calling Lucinda Anderson at (612) 821-0237.

Donations in Rachel's name can be made to one or both of two organizations:  Harriet Tubman Women's Shelter, where Rachel worked as a Unity Summer volunteer and Minnesota Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In memory of Rachel Anne Gaschott Ritchie Harriet Tubman Women's Shelter, 3111 First Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408 MADD Minnesota State Office, 2429 University Ave. West, St. Paul, Minnesota  55114

And, as Nancy Gaschott wrote in a letter to friends yesterday: "You can treasure your children, even more than you do already, and you can share your children with us. You can know how grateful we are to have you in our lives.  And you can stay in touch with us, forever."

Rachel R.I.P.


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