"The customer is our enemy." -- Michael Andreas of ADM
By Warren Hough
(The Spotlight, Nov. 4, 1996)
[See the new Spotlight web site at https://https://.spotlight.org]
In November 1992 FBI agent  Brian Shepard, checking on reports of
industrial sabotage, planted hidden microphones in the  executive
offices  of  the  Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), a leading
agribusiness conglomerate.
"What we were tracking was a mole," says Shepard.
What  they  found  was  a  viper's  nest  of  fraudulent schemes,
price-fixing and consumer fraud incriminating many of the world's
largest food supply firms.
On October 15, four years  after  the  investigation  began,  ADM
pleaded  guilty to federal charges of criminal price manipulation
and agreed to pay a whopping $100 million fine.
But ADM's surrender is  merely  "the  first thread in a worldwide
web of multinational corporations that pay lip service  to  'free
trade'  while  they  join forces against the consumers in cartels
and price-rigging conspiracies," says  Otto  Welker, a former New
York State prosecutor.
Following ADM's guilty  plea,  the  Justice  Department  has  now
launched  criminal  investigations  of  21 major agribusiness and
food-supply firms, including such  industry  leaders as the giant
Cargill  Corporation  and  Hoffman-Laroche,   a   leading   Swiss
biochemical manufacturer.
As  this  issue of The Spotlight went to press, its investigative
reporters have assembled  the  following  facts about the ongoing
In the summer  of  1992,  Dr.  Mark  Whitacre,  a  specialist  in
nutritional science who headed ADM's biochemistry division, found
himself caught in a gnawing dilemma.
On  the  one  hand,  Whitacre  had  become uneasily involved in a
criminal conspiracy:  A  secret  deal  between  ADM  and its main
competitors to fix the price of his biochemistry division's  main
product,  lysine,  an  amino  acid  extracted  from corn and used
worldwide as an essential additive to pork and poultry feed.
On the other, Whitacre was  ordered  to  deal  with a team of FBI
agents called in by ADM  Chairman  Dwayne  Andreas  to  find  out
whether  saboteurs  hired  by  rival Japanese firms were slipping
contaminants into ADM's production machinery.
Tormented  by  doubts   about   his   complicity  in  a  criminal
conspiracy, Whitacre began to change the  account  of  events  he
gave federal investigators.
"I  told  [FBI agent] Shepard I had lied about some things...  It
was a real relief to talk to someone without lying all the time,"
Whitacre related in a court deposition reviewed by The Spotlight.
Shepard soon persuaded Whitacre to  "wear  a wire" -- that is, to
carry a concealed audio transmitter into the  meetings  of  ADM's
top executives.
                  -+- Let Them Eat Cake -+-
The results were  stunning.   Andreas,  one  of the most powerful
U.S. corporate chieftains, along with his son and  heir-apparent,
Vice  Chairman Michael Andreas, are heard telling their top aides
to  forget   all   the   "hogwash"   about   free  trade,  global
competitiveness and "feeding the world"  propagandized  by  ADM's
paid  TV  commentators  such  as  celebrated  talk show host John
McLaughlin. {1}
"Our  philosophy  is  just  the  opposite.  In reality, it is our
competitors who are our friends  and  the customer is our enemy,"
Michael Andreas, unaware that he is being recorded,  reminds  his
colleagues time and again.
In  line  with  this corporate philosophy, ADM soon made a secret
pact with its two main competitors  in the lysine business -- the
Japanese agribusiness giants Kiowa  Hakko  and  Ajinomoto  --  to
create  a  criminal cartel, fixing market shares and artificially
high worldwide prices for this vital biochemical commodity.
"In a way, it was stealing from the world's poor -- the uncounted
millions of customers Andreas  had  designated  the 'enemy' -- in
order to enrich the fat multinational  corporations  that  supply
our  overpriced  food," says consumer advocate Nora de Apponyi, a
well-known nutrition specialist.
---------------------------<< Notes >>---------------------------
{1} "...propagandized by ADM's  paid TV commentators."  Also, ADM
(at least locally, where I live) helps support the PBS News  Hour
with  Jim  Lehrer.   A  brief  ADM  promo  always  starts the PBS
newscast here.   Strange,  but  I  haven't  seen  a  whole lot of
coverage of this ADM scandal on PBS.