Cargill’s Meddling in California Politics Goes Beyond Food

by jeeg 2. November 2012 22:05

While Monsanto may have grabbed the headlines for the millions of dollars they have poured into the effort to defeat California’s Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods, they’re not the only major global agricultural behemoth meddling with California’s politics.

Far more secretive and with ten times the annual revenue of Monsanto is Minnesota-based global ag giant Cargill. Producers of the sweeteners in our soda, the meat in our chili, the grain in our cereal and scores of artificial ingredients slipped into almost every type of processed food, most of us unknowingly consume numerous Cargill products every day. As a long-time booster of genetically engineered foods it is no surprise to see that Cargill has directly contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat Prop 37.

But the company’s involvement doesn’t stop there. Cargill is also major player behind the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which has kicked in an additional $417,000. Cargill CEO Greg Page sits on their Board. An estimated 91 percent of soybeans and 85 percent of corn grown domestically are genetically engineered, both of which are major Cargill industries, as well as major ingredients in packaged food–making it clear why Cargill is so invested in the defeat of this measure. Proposition 37 isn’t even close to the first time that Cargill has put their considerable resources into meddling with California’s politics. Since 2000 the company and a handful of employees have contributed over $800,000 to influence local and statewide ballot measures, as well as candidates for public office. Here in the Bay Area, much of Cargill’s lobbying efforts relate to their proposal to plop a large housing development on defunct San Francisco Bay salt ponds near Redwood City.

A broad coalition spearheaded by Save The Bay has fought the proposal for years. To Cargill, salt is another commodity just like soybeans, pigs, and corn. Now that the production of salt is no longer profitable, Cargill wants to squeeze every last bit of profit out of the land by selling it to developers. But the salt ponds have never been permitting for housing, and lack a source of fresh water for any type of development. Save the Bay believes they should be restored back to wetlands instead.

Just as Cargill has lobbied for lax environmental laws around Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and fought labeling of GMOs, the company has given tens of thousands of dollars to key Bay Area elected officials. Along with their Arizona-based development partners, DMB Associates, Cargill has spent an unprecedented $350,000 lobbying the Bay Conservation and Development Commission not to adopt strong policies that would protect Bay Area communities from sea level rise. Policies that discourage development below sea level, particularly in areas with habitat restoration potential–such as Cargill’s salt ponds in Redwood City.

For those in the food movement, Cargill’s name is associated with pink slime, e. coli and salmonella. The company has been involved in at least 10 major recalls since 1993, leading to 347 illnesses and 10 deaths, including the salmonella-linked death of a 65 year old woman in Sacramento in 2011. And Cargill was thrust into the spotlight this summer as it was revealed that a controversial Stanford study critical of organics was funded by a center that had received $5 million from Cargill. The news prompted widespread censure and calls to rescind the study. Cargill’s secret corporate influence on California politics has consequences. It impacts the health of our families, the health of our environment and the health of our democratic system.

David Winsberg and Stephen Knight, Civil Eats


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