Cargill’s Not-So-Cold Turkey: Bad Habits In The Global Food Chain

Written by Hillary Lehr

Topics: Agribusiness

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Cutting safety corners to optimize profits is a lethal practice in the corporate sector recently seen with Cargill’s 36 million pound turkey meat recall.

Sometimes it’s hard to break a bad habit. Especially if that bad habit is sabotaging safety in the name of record profits.

But why must the public continually shoulder the consequences of Cargill’s greedy weak spot?

There are many hidden costs of our industrialized food system, but some times it’s impossible to keep them out of sight. Just last week, Cargill  initiated the second-largest meat recall in U.S. history, pulling almost 36 million pounds of ground turkey off the market after a salmonella outbreak linked to one death and 79 illnesses in 26 states. This is yet another clear warning signal that our global industrial food system is failing.

Meanwhile, Cargill quietly reported another record: $4.2 billion in net profits from the 2010 fiscal year, a 63% annual increase. It’s pretty damn obvious that making so much money is coming at a cost of neglecting basic safety standards and environmental responsibility. As a global food trader, Cargill is addicted to putting the very health and safety of human beings around the world second to its own profits.

When public safety is jeopardized by our own dinner plates, many of us naturally step back and ponder, “How could something like this happen?” Some people (correctly) point to recent state and federal budget cuts limiting government agencies like the Food and Drug Agency from being able to enforce safety regulation. While the assertions are correct — the FDA’s mission is not effectively enforced — this unfortunately is only a piece of the problem.

If the turkey didn’t make you sick, the nasty industrial food system sure will…

This is what our food system looks like on drugs.

To fully trace how deadly turkey, lethal eggs, and sickening spinach end up all over the country in a matter of days, we need to step back and look at the current global food system as a whole.

Today, this issue is generating more attention than ever, in part due to the fact that more and more people are dying from disease-causing bacteria from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) — a key component of our current consolidated food system. The connections between the methods of industrial food production, agricultural policy, food-borne illness and food safety scandals run deep.

3 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Mark Murphy says:

    Hillary,
    As your teammates from RAN already know, especially those who have visited Cargill locations on three continents, no company can succeed by sacrificing people’s safety. There’s no benefit to Cargill’s bottom line or reputation if people get sick.

    Our meat businesses have spent $1 billion over the past decade on food safety and just in the U.S. we have 700 employees dedicated full time to eradicating risks from food-borne illness. When we learned from the CDC about the salmonella illnesses, we acted quickly to recall the ground turkey made during the time of the illnesses – even though the link to our product was unclear. Public health just can’t be compromised. If anyone did get sick from eating our turkey, we’re sorry.

    We’ve since disassembled and steam-cleaned our equipment, added two antibacterial measures to those already in place and increased our testing far beyond what’s required. Your readers can find out more about it here: http://bit.ly/qEnNw7. We’ve also established an independent panel of experts to come into our plant to make sure we haven’t missed anything. As we’ve done with other food-safety technology and practices we’ve developed, we’ll share what we’ve learned with our competitors.

    Everyone who works in our plants has a family to feed, too, so it’s just the right thing to do.

    Regards,

    Mark Murphy,
    Asst. Vice President for Corporate Responsibility, Cargill

  2. Dear Mark,

    Thanks for your response.

    I think the larger issue here is that as a massive global food trader, the tentacles of your business are reaching the majority of people on this planet. Whether we’re talking about the billions of animals you’re processing every year or the tons of palm oil you’re transporting and selling around the planet, it’s clear that Cargill can and should do better.

    To avoid this type of disaster in the palm oil sector, Cargill should immediately adopt basic supply chain safeguards* to ensure that slave labor, endangered species and rainforest destruction don’t end up on dinner plates across America just like the salmonella outbreak did.

    We believe this food safety tragedy is a symptom of a very broken food system and certainly not an isolated incident. If you haven’t already, I invite you to read our critique** of the industrial food complex and let me know what you think.

    Thanks for your attention to this important issue.

    Ashley Schaeffer
    Rainforest Agribusiness Campaigner

    *http://understory.ran.org/2011/06/23/cargill-keep-slave-labor-out-of-us-grocery-stores/

    **http://ran.org/content/undesired-consequences-industrial-food-complex-rainforest-destruction-our-shopping-cart

  3. Bob says:

    Mark,
    I quote form your comment:
    “Our meat businesses have spent $1 billion over the past decade on food safety and just in the U.S. we have 700 employees dedicated full time to eradicating risks from food-borne illness. When we learned from the CDC about the salmonella illnesses, we acted quickly to recall the ground turkey made during the time of the illnesses – even though the link to our product was unclear. Public health just can’t be compromised. If anyone did get sick from eating our turkey, we’re sorry.”

    Someone died. Nearly 80 serious illnesses. Clearly somewhere there was a large compromise on public safety. Clearly $1 billion is not sufficient to cover all of your needs for the public safety. Why did the CDC need to tell you TWO DAYS after the break out that you had contaminated meat? Were you not monitoring pour product? Apparently 700 employees can not cover all of your bases in order to prevent death and illness. You statistics do of dollar spent and employee counts simply do not support the death of a single person. Or maybe in your companies mission statement and companies guidelines it does? Sorry does not cut it for those who have to deal with the death of a family member just because they chose ground turkey for a healthier option. Kinda ironic isn’t it?

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  1. Top Reasons Why It’s Time To Occupy Cargill » Rainforest Action Network Blog

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