Sunday, December 10, 2006

What does your turkey and a beer have in common?

The companies involved in producing them, that's what.

Via Off-Centre magazine, Jon Steinman provides a little research into beer production which is interesting in itself. What Jon points out, however, is that the malting of barley, required in the brewing process, is controlled in North America by two US companies: Cargill and ConAgra Foods.

Following the story to Co-op America reveals some of the things these two companies are up to and, as you may well have started to gather, it's not pretty.

Cargill controls the lion's share of U.S. corn exports and beef packing, and holds a position among the world's leading traders of cocoa and cotton. The company may tout the motto "nourshing ideas, nourishing people" as its international operations flourish, but Cargill is no stranger to criticism across its business interests. The ILRF is suing Cargill on charges that they knowingly source cocoa from African plantations that use child slave labor, and the Environmental Justice Foundation named Cargill as a major purchaser of Uzbek cotton, which is produced using largely uncompensated labor and is implicated in widespread human rights abuses. In both instances, Cargill claims to have no knowledge of any misconduct. Within the U.S., Cargill poses a threat to farmers by prematurely pushing its GMO products onto the market, aggressively seeking patents for its seeds and suing farmers that unkowingly cultivate Cargill-patented products on their farms. Cargill has made its way into more environmentally conscious markets with its NatureWorks PLA, a biodegradable synthetic material that uses a corn base instead of petroleum. However, Cargill does not publicize the fact that the corn used to produce NatureWorks PLA is genetically modified.
And, there are a few details which are worth noting.

Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland were the primary targets of the Organic Consumers Association’s Campaign Against GE Corn. As the largest producers of genetically engineered corn, these companies and are seen as responsible for widespread “genetic pollution” of organic corn species across North and Central America. The OCA was calling on consumers to take action against Cargill and appeal to the FDA regarding the proliferation and safety of genetically engineered corn. Kraft and Monsanto were also implicated in the campaign.

The Amazon rainforest is home to nearly 10% of the world's mammals, 15% of the world's known land-based plant species, and about 220,000 people from over 180 different indigenous nations. However, this biodiverse region is being threatened by deforestation caused by soy production. An estimated 1.2 million hectares of what was once rainforest have been destroyed, mostly illegally, to grow soybeans for animal feed. Operating 13 silos in the Amazon rainforest, Cargill is the leading corporation financing and facilitating rainforest destruction. Cargill provides everything from seeds to agrochemicals, transportation to storage infrastructure needed to draw in farmers to soya production.

The federal government and ten states sued Cargill Inc. for failing to comply with emissions standards outlined in the Clean Air Act. The lawsuit came after the discovery that Cargill’s corn processing plants were a major source of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds.

The International Labor Rights Fund has sued Nestlé, Archer Daniels Midland, and Cargill in Federal District Court in Los Angeles for involvement in the trafficking, torture, and forced labor of children who cultivate and harvest cocoa beans that the companies import from Africa. They filed suit on behalf of a class of Malian children who were trafficked from Mali into the Ivory Coast and forced to work twelve to fourteen hours a day with no pay, little food and sleep, and frequent beatings. The three children acting as class representative plaintiffs are proceeding anonymously, as John Does, because of feared retaliation by the farm owners where they worked.

In 2004 Cargill reached a $24 million settlement over accusations that it participated in a fructose price-fixing cartel. Archer Daniels Midland paid $400 million to settle the same charge.
There's lot's more on the Co-op America site to expand that small sampling above.

ConAgra is a multinational food giant with products ranging from cooking oil to hot chocolate mix. While food companies are known to have a large environmental footprint, ConAgra's environmental commitment has resulted in a reduction of 27,969 tons of landfill waste, a savings of 856.3 million gallons of water, fewer packaging materials, and a saved 24 million kilowatt hours of electricity consumption.
Good news! ConAgra gets positive marks for doing something to reduce their environmental impact. Unfortunately, where it does well on environmental changes, the company falls flat in some areas.

The company was cited in a number of fraud cases, the most recent of which involved its fabrication of documents to aid in the US Foodservice accounting scandal. Health code violations at its food processing facilities have endangered consumers and in some cases been linked to deaths from bacterial contamination. Former CEO Bruce Rohde earned excessive compensation despite mediocre company performance.
Some of the details worth noting:

Under pressure from investors former chairman and CEO of ConAgra, Bruce C. Rohde, resigned from his position in September 2005. Rohde earned more than $45 million in his eight years as CEO, plus a $20 million retirement package despite overseeing a 28 percent decline in company stock and the laying off of 9,000 workers.
In August 2002, a federal health official said one person in Ohio may have died as a result of eating contaminated meat produced at the ConAgra Beef plant in Greeley, Colorado. The Centers for Disease Control potentially linked 34 cases of E. Coli illness with the Colorado facility.

ConAgra was one of the several major food companies implicated as conspiring to cover up a massive accounting scandal at U.S. Foodservice (owned by Royal Ahold). Between 2000 and 2003 U.S. Foodservice inflated earnings by $800 million, aided by falsified rebate contracts from clients such as ConAgra and Sara Lee.

According to The New York Times, in 2001, operations at two ConAgra plants were halted by the US Department of Agriculture because of health violations and the company was threatened with shut downs at least a half dozen more times. Another ConAgra facilitiy had the highest rate of salmonella among all the turkey processors tested by the Department during 2001. And the company's Greeley Colorado plant had been cited almost 10 times from 1999 to 2002 for violating worker safety codes.

ConAgra was named one of the 'Top 100 Corporate Criminals of the 1990s' for fraud, with fines of $4.4 million. It was alleged that ConAgra used several schemes to defraud farmers and grain buyers to increase their own grain inventories and profits. The company purposefully misgraded soybean and grain, paying less to farmers while selling at higher prices. The 'Corporate Criminal' list was created to focus public attention on "the pervasive criminality that has corrupted the marketplace and that is given little sustained attention and analysis by politicians and news outlets."

Again, there is a lot more at the Co-op America site to look at. There was one item however that stood out from all the others.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) found that turkeys were routinely abused in the Butterball turkey slaughterhouse, located in Ozard, Arkansas. PETA’s two undercover investigators, who worked over 40 days, caught Butterball workers on videotape “punching, stomping on, sexually assaulting, and otherwise tormenting turkeys.” After playing the footage to the US Department of Agriculture and American Meat Institute, slaughterhouse consultant Dr. Temple Grandin stated, “This plant has both severe animal welfare problems and a lack of management that needs correcting.” ConAgra Foods spokesman Christopher Kircher, reaffirmed ConAgra’s commitment to humane practices and responded that the company’s focus is to “get to the bottom of these allegations.”
This is not a four year old complaint. It's recent and if you had a Butterball™ turkey already this year, you may change your mind for Christmas. By going a little further we find the actual practices as detailed and video-taped by PETA. Just a few of the items in the compaint:

· Workers slammed live birds against shackles, metal trailers, and handrails with such force that one turkey’s spine popped out.

· Workers routinely kicked live birds and often used them as punching bags.

· One employee was seen stomping on a bird’s head until her skull exploded.

· Another employee assaulted a hanging turkey by inserting his finger into her cloaca (vagina).
What a fun place to work!
After viewing PETA’s video footage, U.S. Department of Agriculture and American Meat Institute slaughterhouse consultant Dr. Temple Grandin said, "This plant has both severe animal welfare problems and a lack of management that needs correcting."
I am an omnivore. I like turkey. But, I expect any animal I consume is slaughtered without undue suffering. I've never been a fan of Butterball™ turkeys. Now, I'm starting to find myself on their side.

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