The Transnational Agribusiness Giant

By Eugene W. Plawiuk

Cargill is the worlds largest privately owned corporation according to Hoovers Corporate Reports. As such it has not needed to publicly file SEC reports in the United States on its income, profits, or executive salaries and compensation. Cargill is also the worlds largest private grain company controlling over ¼ of all US grain exports and over a quarter of the worlds grain production according to Forbes Magazine. Cargill's home page declares the company to be the third largest food processor in the world, after Phillip Morris/Kraftco/General Foods conglomerate and ConAgra foods.


Cargill has expanded its world wide operations to include commodity marketing, oilseed and corn processing, flour milling, meat processing, genetic seed experimentation, steel manufacturing, utility companies and financial services.

In 1990 Cargill had estimated earnings of $42 Billion US dollars. In 1995, after Ernest S. Micek was elected chairman and CEO, only the second non-family member to hold the position, the company went public with its earnings.

In fiscal 1996 Cargill sales were $56 Billion US dollars, for a total profit of $902 million up $231 million US dollars from the previous year. The company has over $21 billion US dollars in assets with offices, plants and facilities in over 1600 locations in 66 countries world wide.

As of April 1997, Cargill earnings during the third quarter of fiscal 1996-97 totaled $172 million, bringing year to date results to $658 million.


Founded by William Cargill in 1865, the company is controlled by the eight surviving members of the Cargill and MacMillan families. They are the main stockholders in Cargill Inc., owning $5.9 billion dollars in equity between them. James and Margaret Cargill earn $1.5 billion US dollars per year, while the six members of the MacMillan family earn $975 million US dollars annually. While many of the family members are no longer directly active on Cargill's Board of directors they still play a role, especially former Chair and CEO; Whitney MacMillan, as directors emeritus.

Along with having been an active member of the Business Round Table (a policy/lobby group made up of Americas leading corporate CEO's) Whitney also sits on the advisory board of the prestigious Humbert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Brother W. Duncan MacMillan is a Trustee with Brown University, and an investor in the new Minnesota NHL hockey team.


In 1996 William B. MacMillan and Michael H. Armacost were added to Cargill's Board of Directors. William MacMillan replaced Cargill MacMillan, Jr., as a common shareholder director. Cargill MacMillan, Jr., who had served on the Board since 1963, becomes senior advisory director to the Board. Michael Armacost is president of The Brookings Institution, a major United States Policy Think Tank. He is a former Distinguished Senior Fellow and Visiting Professor at Stanford University's Asia/Pacific Research Center. During his 24 years of government service, Armacost served as U.S. ambassador to Japan and the Philippines, as well as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. He also held senior positions with the National Security Council and the Department of Defense.

Other Cargill Board members include common shareholder directors Marianne Cargill Leibmann, W. Duncan MacMillan, Lucy M. Stitzer, David MacMillan and Austen S. Cargill. Other independent directors are Michael R. Bonsignore, chairman and chief executive officer of Honeywell Inc., Minneapolis; Livio D. DeSimone, chairman and chief executive officer of 3M, St. Paul; Lloyd P. Johnson, retired chairman of Norwest Corporation, Minneapolis, and Michael W. Wright, chairman, president and chief executive officer of SUPERVALU INC., Eden Prairie, Minn. Management directors are Ernest S. Micek, Robert L. Lumpkins, F. Guillaume Bastiaens, David W. Raisbeck and Warren R. Staley. Former Cargill Chairman Whitney MacMillan remains director emeritus.


Not satisfied with their virtual monopoly in the grain trade (see Dan Morgans, Merchants of Grain, 1979), which has been heavily subsidized by the United States government since the 1950's and now dominates the worlds markets. Cargill has moved into developing genetically engineered strains of seed stocks and monopolizing the meat processing industry and the North American salt market. In fact a recent merger between Cargill and AKZO in April was deemed a monopoly by the United States Department of Justice.

While the workers at the Cargill plant in High River fight for a reasonable wage increase, their employer is part of a U.S. cartel that has a virtual monopoly in the meat packing industry. According to a recently released United States Department of Agriculture report, on who controls the beef packing industry in the United States, Cargill (under its subsidiary Excel) controls 22% of the market. The rest of the market is split with three other competitors; Iowa Beef, ConAgra, and National Beef. According to U.S. Department of Justice guidelines for determining a market monopoly, known as the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) anything above 1800 is considered enough for the Department to investigate for Anti-trust violations. Currently the Big Four meat packers in the United States have a HHI of 2128! When the Packers and Stockyards Act was passed in the United States in 1921 it was in reaction to the fact that the then big four meat packers; Swift, Armour, Cudhay and Wilson controlled 40% of the market. The current big four, including Cargill, control 87% of the market in the United States!

Deregulation and NAFTA has seen the American meat packing industry engage in union busting, low wage employment, and moving plant operations into Canada and Mexico. Cargill and National Beef have moved plants into Alberta, and in the latter case National Beef's operations in southern Alberta were able to keep out a union organizing drive by UFCW.

Cargill has always benefited from government largeese, not only from the American government but here in Alberta as well. When Cargill first began to buy up grain operations across Western Canada in the 1970's, their tell tale elevators now dot the landscape, they and the Alberta government came to a common agreement to set up a joint grain processing operation at the port of Prince Rupert, B.C.. Cargills meat processing operation was able to take advantage of a market that had been deserted by Canadian companies such as Burns and Gainers, leaving it open to American companies who received support from the government under its agricultural diversification program.

In Argentina Cargill's fertilizer operations receive U.S. OPIC assistance. As an investor in developing countries Cargill has benefited from World Bank and IMF loans. A 1994 U.S. Treasury study shows that U.S. companies, which included Cargill, won $2.7 Billion US Dollars in contracts compared to the $1.5 Billion US dollars the American government donated to the World Bank and its members.


Recently Cargill announced a $45 million US Dollar palm oil project on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. This operation has benefited from the forced migration Indonesian islanders from their home islands to Sumatra. This program of the Suharto dictatorship has moved over seven million people to the island of Sumatra, giving the island the largest unemployed labour force in the region. Cargill's palm oil plantation, which will see the planting of over one million palm trees, has also benefited from the ecologically disastrous policies of deforestation practiced by the Indonesian government. This deforestation of ancient forests, threatens several species of rare and endangered animals including the White Rhino and the Orangutang.

In the fall of 1997 the islands of Sumatra and Borneo caught fire, and burned through out the fall and winter. The devastation and resulting air pollution covered not only Indonesia but its neighbours in Thailand and Malaysia. The government and corporations at first blamed peasants for the fires, saying it was caused by slash and burn agriculture.

In reality it was the slash and burn policies of the Indonesian government and its corporate partners like Cargill, which created the conditions which led to this ecological disaster.
News reports reveal that the fires were started to clear land for palm oil planatations!


"Until the Uruguay Round, agriculture wasn't even on GATT's liberalization agenda" Cargill CEO Ernest S. Micek told a university audience in Minnesota recently. Cargill, under the leadership of its former CEO Whitney Macmillan and its current CEO; Ernest S. Micek, has been in the forefront of promoting free trade, deregulation, and privatization of agriculture through NAFTA, GATT, World Trade Organization(WRO) and the recent APEC trade talks.

Cargill and other members of the Business Roundtable formed the Alliance For GATT in 1994 to lobby the United States Congress to expand free trade and deregulation during the Uruguay talks. As part of that lobby effort Cargill and other alliance members donated several millions in dollars. Another front group promoting free trade that helped form the Alliance was Consumers (sic) for World Trade (CWT) which represented not consumers but multinational corporations including of course Cargill. Corporate donation for membership was $65,000. Cargill also helped form the Emergency Committee for American Trade, to lobby the government, cost of membership a mere $11,000.

This lobbying effort paid off and deregulation, free trade and privatization of agriculture was legislated during the GATT talks. Further expansion of free trade in agricultural products is now being discussed by the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) states which will be meeting in Vancouver, B.C. in November of this year.

Cargill and other U.S. agribusiness giants were so successful in their lobbying efforts that during last years World Food Conference delegates were not able to come out with a common statement in declaring that having a secure source of food was a human right. One government refused to sign the document thus effectively vetoing any final conference statement, and that was the government of the United States.

If national food self sufficiency, food as a human right, a policy that has been in place since after World War II, is not on Cargill's agenda what is? Let's hear from the horses mouth: "The good news today is that times are changing. Formerly centrally controlled economic systems are giving way to privatization and are opening agriculture to the vigor of free markets. The Uruguay Round began extending normal trade rules to agriculture… This message -- that freer food trade means greater food security --needs to be repeated until it is fully heard and heeded." Ernest S. Micek, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President, Cargill, Incorporated.

Agribusinesses,like Cargill, new "international food regime" have three basic features:

a) the removal of national agricultural subsidies and protective tariffs in accordance with such regional agreements as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT);

b) under the guise of free trade and the accelerated flow of unrestricted foreign capital transnational capital is assuming a greater role in the globalized industrialization of agriculture and food production; and

c) through so-called "structural adjustment or stabilization programs" Third World economies and former Soviet bloc nations are being forcibly restructured. Such policies have and will continue to contribute and underscore export-oriented policies in agriculture creating ever more serious degrees of domestic and international economic inequality.

And as recently as June, 1997, Whitney MacMillan, chairman emeritus of Cargill, spoke at the Dain Bosworth Agribusiness Conference reinforcing these three points:

"If the primary challenge of the 21st century is to achieve a better fed and more prosperous world, the spotlight has to fall on markets," said MacMillan, who was chairman and chief executive officer of Cargill from 1976 to 1995. "Well functioning competitive markets must take the lead in organizing local economic activity, as well as global trade and investment flows. This must be done in ways that achieve food security, economic development and environmental sustainability."

An excellent book on Cargill and its push for free trade for Agribusiness is Brewseter Kneen's; The Invisible Giant: Cargill and It's Transnationals Strategies.


Cargill is one of the worlds leading producers of genetically engineered seeds and biotechnological additives for livestock. Like Monsanto, and other American agribusiness's specializing in biotech supplements and feedstocks, Cargills products have been hit hard by the recent case of Mad Cow disease in England.

Controversy continues to swirl around farmers rights versus corporate intellectual property rights to seed stocks. Corporations like Cargill specializing in the genetic manipulation of seed stocks maintain they "own" the rights to the products of these seeds. Though the company admits that the origin of the seeds is often from farmers in developing countries. For instance, increased productivity due to using improved varieties made possible by the genetic materials is worth $500 million annually in the U.S. wheat sector alone.

In 1993 members of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), a powerful farmers' association in India raided Cargill offices with the aim of protecting the "rights of farmers to produce, use, modify and conserve seeds." This fundamental right is under threat from multinational seed companies which see farmers' rights to their own seeds as an obstacle to market expansion by companies like Cargill.


"Within many individual countries, central governments have dominated the food system -- in most cases with disastrous results for farmers, consumers and the environment."
Ernest S. Micek, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President, Cargill, Incorporated

Cargill's environmental record is less than stellar and gives lie to Micek's comments about how multinational corporations like his can do "better than the government".

In 1993 Cargill made the short list of the Council on Economic Prioritiesas one of the worst environmental offenders in the United States. The CEP sited over 2000 violations of health and safety laws. In 1988 a Cargill plant spilt 40,000 gallon of toxic phosphoric acid into the Alafia River in Florida causing a massive fish kill. In 1991 CEP found Cargill to have the worst air pollution compliance record of any company in its industry. The Environmental Protection Agency of the United States found Cargill to be one of the top two emitters of toxics in its industry. As well in 1991 then Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas criticized the company for dumping animal waste into the states river system. Cargill was found to have dumped enough animal waste for ten times the human population in the state.

More recently Cargill has begun dredging operations at the grain port of Puerto Aquirre in Bolivia. It will alter the natural chanel of two major local rivers, in order for Cargill to create a waterway for Soybean barges. Independent studies have found that even small changes to this waterway , the second most important river system in all of South America, may cause massive damage to the largest of the worlds remaining wetlands.

Cargill is going ahead with this dredging operation without environmental safeguards and against the recommendations of environmental impact studies funded by the Inter-American Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme.

Once again Cargill benefits from United States government funding in this project as well. The original port development was started as a U.S. AID program.

Workers in Puerto Suarez recently staged a general strike in protest against Cargill's dredging operations.



Like that other multinational American agribusiness giant; Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Gargill likes to portray itself as a farm business. In reality it is as far removed from the farm as ADM. It is a commodities broker, whether the commodity is wheat, soybeans, steel, seeds, electricity or financial services. As a commodity broker, it buys and sells food and other commodities trying to get the best price for itself, regardless of the effects on the producer or consumer or their own workers.

The current fight in Western Canada to defend the Canadian Wheat Board from incursions by these multinational grain companies, and attacks on it by right wing political parties like Reform and its farmers front groups, is the battle between the family farm and corporate agribusiness. The battle of the small producer seems doomed considering recent changes in the grain trade and the ideology of globalization and privatization that farmers now face.

A recent feature in the Western Producer reveals the depth of corporatization of Western Canada's grain industry. Even as western farmers fight to keep the Wheat Board the grain companies, such as the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Alberta and the Manitoba Pools are moving towards corporate partnerships with the American multinational grain companies like Cargill and ADM

What would happen if the Wheat board disappeared? According to the Producer article; "Gordon Cummings, chief executive officer of Alberta Wheat Pool, predicts just four grain companies would survive in Western Canada if the board disappeared: The three big U.S. firms Cargill, ConAgra and ADM, along with one prairie-wide Canadian company."

Saskatchewan Wheat Pool chief executive officer Don Loewen said he expects a U.S. invasion: "I don't think anything will prevent the Americans from coming in where they see they can make a buck."

In the United States farmers face the same corprate agenda. There the issue is the lucrative soybean market. In June of this year, Cargill announced it would be importing soybeans into the United States from Brazil. The announcement created a sharp drop in futures market prices for American farmers. Soybeans fell 30 cents per bushel prompting the National Farmers Union President, Leland Swenson, to call on the Chicago Board of Trade to investigate Cargill.

"We believe the importation of soybeans at this time serves only to drive down the futures prices, and in turn, the cash prices paid to farmers," declared Swenson." "This action is yet another example of a large agribusiness giant trading against interest to manipulate prices. The result is economic hardship to American producers and rural communities."

"America's farmers want to know why the international traders need to import a product which is in adequate supply in this country," said Swenson, "We also want to know the position importers have in the futures markets. We need a full economic impact study conducted in order to quantify the financial devastation imposed on American farmers as a result of the importer's actions."

Cargills response to the NFU charges was to release a psudeo-interview between Fritz Corrigan, President of Cargill's Agricultural Businesses, and an anonymous Cargill announcer. Corrigan admits that farmers are upset but goes on to tell the announcer that: "We've truly entered the global market. But that's good news for American farmers and businesses like mine." What's good news for Cargill is not good news for farmers.

But hey Cargill has an answer for that too, as the Announcer ends the interview: "Thank you, Fritz Corrigan. And I bet there are a lot of hungry pigs and chickens out there who thank you, too." Pigs and chickens that will become both consumer and product of Cargill!

In Cargill's world everything is a commodity to profit from. Plants, animals, farms and farmers, energy, consumers, and as the striking members of Local 1118 will tell you, even workers. Everything is for sale in the world of Cargill, but at what cost?

July 27, 1997 (updated November 1998)

  • Cargill purchase raises concerns among farmers
    Cargill, the largest grain handler in the world, plans to buy the grain operations of Continental Grain, its largest American competitor, in a deal estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The deal will give Cargill another 65 elevators in the United States, including six port terminals. Cargill, which had sales of $51 billion (U.S.) last year, will have the ability to handle about 40 percent of U.S. grain shipped from the Gulf of Mexico. The deal will have little direct effect on Canadian farmers. Continental has few operations here and only its Vancouver grain trading office is included in the Cargill takeover. But indirectly, the fact that the leviathan of the grain trade plans to get a lot bigger has some Canadian farmers concerned. '"The fewer players there are who set the agenda, who can flood markets, short markets or who can manipulate for their own benefit, the less control farmers have and less well we will be," said Nettie Wiebe, National Farmers Union president.

    UPDATED:July, 1998

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