Agriculture's 'dark side' is highly overstated

  • Article by: MIKE FERNANDEZ
  • Updated: December 1, 2013 - 5:03 PM

A recent commentary deeply misunderstood Cargill’s mission.

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Bonnie Blodgett’s commentary “Agriculture’s deal with the dark side” (Nov. 24) stokes unwarranted fear of “industrial agriculture” and mischaracterizes Cargill’s role in agriculture worldwide. For one thing, 96 percent of crop-producing farms in the United States are family-owned, and they represent 87 percent of all agricultural value. For another, Cargill (where I work) is committed, like most of these farmers, to improved environmental stewardship and land management. We have many efforts underway to pursue sustainable production across the globe working with groups like World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy.

In the Colombian case mentioned in Blodgett’s essay, a Cargill subsidiary has made significant investments that are delivering direct benefits to the Colombian people and their domestic food security. The investments are building sustainable farms and farming infrastructure in a remote area with great agricultural potential but a long history of underinvestment.

The farms today are producing corn, soybeans and rice, 100 percent of which stays in Colombia, improving the country’s food security and reducing its high reliance on food imports. Blodgett gives life to rumor when she says Oxfam believes Cargill has plans to export this food. Nothing could be further from the truth. Colombia is a net-food-importing country. It imports 80 percent of its corn and soybean consumption, which means the local market will long be the best home for local production.

Although Blodgett said we gave “no explanation beyond a brief news release,” we have provided a great deal of information on our website about our role in growing more food for Colombia.

Our website also reports on how Cargill has been working for many years with millions of smallholder farmers around the world. We help them improve the crop quality and yields of their own land, raise their productivity and incomes, offer a market for their crops, and invest in the health and education of their communities.

Another fact that could have been readily checked is our work with the World Wildlife Fund. Blodgett’s essay states that Cargill “apparently hasn’t sought … advice” from WWF leader Jason Clay. In fact, not only have we sought Clay’s advice, we have a partnership with WWF to define better environmental management practices for key commodities. Moreover, WWF has shared its views with us in many meetings and Clay specifically in forums with Cargill’s leaders.

Can the largest, most-respected environmental nonprofits be wrong about the merits of public-private partnerships? Any read of recent literature would suggest that if we are to sustain important places like the Amazon biome, it will take all of us.

Blodgett’s most illogical claim is that Cargill may “pursue its goals with little government interference or public scrutiny” because it is a private company. We are subject to and comply with the laws and regulations of all of the 67 countries in which we operate — and gladly so, because laws are the foundation of civil societies. Beyond that, we publicly report our financial results and regularly discuss our investment and operational activities. We understand that today’s world demands greater transparency about where our food comes from and how it is produced. At Cargill we do not shrink from this scrutiny; we embrace it.

Through the years, despite the efforts of those who fear science, food production has become more global and efficient, and, as a result, more people have access to a wider variety of safe food at a relatively low cost. But farmers and Cargill know that to continue to build on these advances and feed an additional 2 billion people in the coming decades, we will need to do so responsibly and sustainably.

Mike Fernandez is vice president for corporate affairs at Cargill.

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