Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 9 Num. 56

("Quid coniuratio est?")

"The customer is our enemy." -- Michael Andreas of ADM


By Warren Hough
(The Spotlight, Nov. 4, 1996)
[See the new Spotlight web site at]

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 probe:

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.

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