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3 questions the ex-General Mills CEO asked ADM's CEO on Thursday

  • Blog Post by: Adam Belz
  • May 16, 2014 - 1:38 PM

Archer Daniels Midland CEO Patricia Woertz was in Minneapolis on Thursday speaking to the Economic Club of Minnesota, and she gave a pretty standard speech about the rising global middle class and the need to feed people whose appetites are becoming more demanding (i.e., American).

ADM, which is headquartered in Decatur, Ill., briefly flirted with the idea of moving its headquarters to Minneapolis. It eventually settled on Chicago.

Steve Sanger, the former CEO of General Mills, sat down with Woertz in front of the audience after her speech and asked her a few questions. The first three were pretty interesting. Here they are:

Sanger: The first question on everybody’s mind is why did you decide to move the headquarters to Chicago instead of Minneapolis?

Woertz: First question, huh? As I mentioned, Minneapolis was our home, and certainly was on the list as we looked. We considered all kinds of things related to transportation hubs and education and criterias that…Minnesota’s a wonderful place, Minneapolis is a great place. In the end it turned out Chicago was a better fit for us, but as I mentioned, what an important part of the world for growth here.

Sanger: How do we extend the benefits of the “western diet” – more protein, better affordability – while avoiding some of the down sides of it, the rise in obesity, diabetes?

Woertz: It’s an excellent point. If you think about the portion sizes and everything related to our U.S. diet -- sometimes we refer to it as a western diet. I lived in Canada for a number of years, and I remember my Canadian friends would say to me “What is this all you can eat thing you have in the United States? We don’t have that here. So some of it is moderation and so forth, which goes with education and the like. There’s also more trends around more protein and fiber in a diet, maybe replacing some of the fats, some of the sugars in the diet. It’s possible some communities and some developing nations will do a little bit of this leap-frogging, maybe not have to go through the difficulty in their diet before they get to more informed ways of eating. Like cell phones. Many folks skip the idea of a landline and kind of go on to the next generation.

Sanger: One of the great opportunities for agricultural productivity lies in seed technology and GMOs in general. I’m interested in how do you think about the conflict between the opportunity that presents and the kind of persistent public resistance in the developed world to GMOs?

Woertz: Innovation and technology is critically important to any kind of productivity and certainly has been in agricultural productivity. At ADM, first of all, we agree with the UN’s World Health Organization about the capability of new technology to add to the productivity of agriculture and help feed the world as they look forward to some of the same statistics that I refer to. We also serve customers, so we also think about, do we have large enough capabilities for segregation for some customers that may want something that is different than another customer. Some may want non-GMO this or that variety, and we have the ability to serve those customers. My view in the long-term, although I predicted this earlier, is that we’ll have more discussion that’s science-based on seed technology and the opportunities that provides to the rest of the world. And it will be less based on the geopolitics of the day, but it hasn’t happened yet, and so I’m actually surprised.

The Economic Club has another speech on Wednesday, when Minneapolis Fed chief Narayana Kocherlakota speaks to the group.

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