Cargill Dynasty Gets Richer As Ukraine War Sends Food Prices Soaring
America’s wealthiest agriculture family has gotten even richer as the Ukraine war sends food prices skyrocketing
Apr 9, 2022, 9:59 AM
Martha "Muffy" MacMillan speaks during Women’s Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations in 2015. She is one of 12 billionaire heirs to the Cargill dynasty. Jemal Countess/Getty Images
- The Cargills, an agricultural dynasty going back six generations, are one of America’s richest families.
- Three more Cargill heirs just joined Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index, bringing the total to five.
- The Ukraine war has sent food prices to a record high, "hitting the poorest the hardest," the UN says.
Three heirs of the Cargill-MacMillans, a six-generation dynasty that founded the world’s largest agriculture company, have joined Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index — bringing the total number of family members on the list to five.
The Cargill-MacMillans have consistently ranked among the 25 richest families in America, and are currently listed by Forbes as the nation’s fourth-richest family, behind the Waltons, Kochs, and Mars. Together, the family has a combined net worth of $51.6 billion, Bloomberg reported in September.
The recent rise in the secretive family’s fortune comes as the Ukraine war sends food prices around the world to record highs, a trend that will hit "the poorest the hardest," the UN said Friday.
But as rampant inflation and instability spark fears of a global food crisis, Big Agriculture companies have so far benefited from the volatility .
Cargill Inc. made $4.9 billion last year, its highest profit ever, per the Bloomberg report. And public competitors like Tyson Foods, Archer Daniels Midland, and Bunge each out-performed the market this week as the cost of soybeans, grains, and corn surge.
Approximately 90 family members own 88% of Cargill Inc., according to a Forbes profile from 2020. That makes the agriculture and commodities behemoth one of the largest, closely-held private companies in the country.
Cargill was one of the later companies to announce it would be scaling back its business in Russia, despite the fact that a shipping vessel charted by the company was hit by a missile as it left a Southern Ukraine port in late February.
When contacted by Insider, a Cargill spokesperson said they "cannot speak for the family members" and pointed to the company’s statement on the situation in Ukraine posted to its website.
"We are scaling back our business activities there to only operate essential food and feed facilities and have stopped investment," the company announced on March 30. "This region plays a significant role in our global food system and is a critical source for key ingredients in basic staples like bread, infant formula and cereal. Food is a basic human right and should never be used as a weapon."
Cargill will also be donating "any profits from these essential activities to humanitarian aid," the statement continued.
MAR. 2, 2000 – EDITORIAL/OPINIONS
Cargill: Our taxes, global destruction
Minnetonka-based Cargill is often noted as the world’s largest private corporation, with reported annual sales of over $50 billion and operations at any given time in an average of 70 countries. The “Lake Office” of Cargill is a 63-room replica of a French chateau; the chairman’s office is part of what was once the chateau’s master-bedroom suite.
A family empire, the Cargills and the MacMillans control about 85 percent of the stock. Not only the largest grain trader in the world, with over 20 percent of the market, Cargill dominates another 12 sectors, including destructive speculative finance, according to “Invisible Giant: Cargill and its Transnational Strategies,” by Brewster Kneen.
Taking advantage of the capitalist speculative collapse of 1873, Cargill quickly bought up grain elevators. After vast cooperation with the state-sponsored railroad robber barons, central grain terminals averaged extremely high annual returns on investments of 30 to 40 percent between 1883 and 1889. Cargill hired a Chase Bank vice president to secretly help the corporation through the Depression, writes Dan Morgan in “Merchants of Grain.”
“There are only a few processing firms,” and “these firms receive a disproportionate share of the economic benefits from the food system,” states William D. Heffernan, professor of rural sociology at the University of Missouri. Details of Cargill’s price manipulations at the expense of farmers worldwide was documented in the classic study, “Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity” by Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins. They report that Cargill has had a history of receiving elite government price information that should be told to U.S. farmers.
That secrecy, along with tax-subsidized market control, enables Cargill to buy from U.S. farmers at extremely low prices and then sell abroad to nations pressured under the same destructive elite corporate control. See the Institute for Food and Development Policy’s Web Site at http://www.foodfirst.org….
Between 1985 and 1992, the legal entity called Cargill received $800.4 million in tax subsidies via the Export Enhancement Program, a continuation of the infamous “Food for Peace” policy, writes Kneen. Promoted by Hubert H. Humphrey and instituted as PL 480, food became a Cold War tool, i.e. “for Peace.” If we can induce people to “become dependent on us for food,” then “what is a more powerful weapon than food and fiber?” Humphrey declared, according to “Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies” by Noam Chomsky.
Actually, most of the nation recipients of tax-subsidized Cargill food dumping were, and are, net exporters of food already — policies imposed by colonial trading patterns. The food (for Peace) has been bought cheaply by neocolonial regimes, and then sold at a huge discount on the local market — in Somalia, for example, at one-sixth of the local prices. Many examples of these misguided policies can be found in “Betraying the National Interest: How US Foreign AID Threatens Global Security by Undermining the Political and Economic Stability of the Third World,” by Frances Moore Lappe, et al.
Cargill’s undercutting wipes out the local farmers’ self-reliance, while the revenues (going to the elite) are tied to required purchases of U.S. weapons, writes Chomsky, citing “The Soft War” by Tom Barry, 1988. But the main beneficiary of “Food for Peace” has been Cargill. Keen writes, “From 1954 to 1963, just for storing and transporting P.L. 480 commodities, the heavily subsidized giant Cargill made $1 billion.”
Indian lawyer N.J. Nanjundaswamy reports that a Cargill motto is, “One who controls the seed, controls the farmer, and one who controls the food trade, controls the nation.” Yudof’s recently stated support of federal foreign policy Title XII is another public promotion of the University of Minnesota-Cargill partnership’s raiding of sustainable agricultural cultures.
Cargill is such a damaging threat that in Dec. 1992, 500,000 peasants marched against corporate-controlled trade, and the irate farmers ransacked Cargill’s operations. Fifty people were arrested at the partially completed — and subsequently destroyed — seed-processing plant in Bellary, India. In 1996, 1,000 Indian farmers gathered at Cargill’s office and destroyed Cargill’s records. For more, see http://www.endgame.org...
Cargill has been doing bio-piracy, stealing traditional products. For instance, it used Basmati, a rice from India, as its trade name, and the company continues to be one of the main promoters of corporate-driven intellectual property rights. The U.S. Trade Act, Special 301 Clause, allows the United States to take unilateral action against any country that does not open its market to U.S. corporations.
The United States, for example, has threatened to use trade sanctions against Thailand for its attempt to protect biodiversity. A bill that has been before parliament in India and promoted by Cargill, “takes away all the farmers’ rights, which they have enjoyed for generations — they will no longer be able to produce new varieties of seed or trade seed amongst themselves,” writes Nanjundaswamy.
The research center, Rural Advancement Foundation International, found that “fifteen African states, among them some of the poorest countries in the world, are under pressure to sign away the right of more than 20 million small-holder farmers to save and exchange crop seed. The decision to abandon Africa’s 12,000-year tradition of seed-saving will be finalized at a meeting in the Central African Republic. The 15 governments have been told to adopt draconian intellectual property legislation for plant varieties in order to conform to a provision in the World Trade Organization.”
Cargill, with extensive funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, is also destroying the world’s largest wetland — the Pantanal, in South America — in order to dredge a channel that’s designed for convoys of up to 16 soybean- and soymeal-carrying barges, according to the Institute on Food and Development Policy.
Cargill has been on the Council of Economic Priorities’ list of worst environmental offenders. Mother Jones magazine and Earth Island Journal report that Cargill is responsible for 2,000 OSHA violations, a 40,000-gallon spill of phosphoric solution into Florida’s Alafia River, poor air pollution compliance and record-high releases of toxic waste.
With help from the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy, located at http://www.poclad.org…, states have recently begun to respond to citizen pressure and revoke corporate charters. The assets of Cargill should be revoked, allowing the citizens of the United States to give farmers the benefits of fair trade instead of Cargill’s secretive policy of tax-subsidized global destruction.
The irony of one of the world’s wealthiest monopolists speaking to the global community through an organization whose mission is peace and unity cannot be missed. It is due in large part to global corporate dominance and greed that global peace is constantly undermined, poverty proliferates, and war perpetuated that corporations may maintain their hegemony over food and all other public goods. The U.S. war machine is perennially maintained to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars to ensure the ongoing welfare of the likes of Cargill – not that people may be fed, and peace promoted. There is no entrepreneurship in Cargill only monopoly and greed – fuel for war.