Got Agribusiness?

Got Agribusiness?

U.S. Expo pavilion: coming soon, brought to you by...

The U.S.’ pavilion (read: large exhibit space) at the upcoming World Expo in Shanghai in April needed to be funded. Statutes prevented government dollars from being used for the $61 million endeavor. So, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to unleash her considerable expertise in soliciting donations. China was keen that the U.S. not snub the event (admittedly, it would have looked bad if the world’s superpower hadn’t been able to raise the cash). Her main targets, not surprisingly were U.S. corporations doing business in China’and wanting to do more. Wal-Mart, Dell, 3M, and Boeing signed up quickly. But agribusiness also wanted in and got in. Cargill, one of the world’s biggest feed and food producers, is a pavilion sponsor, as is Yum Brands, the parent company of KFC and Pizza Hut. Both are active in China and keen to extend their reach and, of course, their market share.

Expo, which takes place every five years, is a strange hybrid of world’s fair and trade show, featuring technological innovations along with lots of hype about countries’ “forward-looking” policies and practices. I attended the last Expo in 2005 in Aichi, Japan. There the theme was “nature’s wisdom.” Lots of high-tech, energy saving innovations were on display, along with a floor show, what I’d describe as a robot ballet, which offered a glimpse of the streamlined, efficient, automated future that might await. (The nearby just opened Nagoya airport alone made me wonder whether high-tech was really the U.S.’s future, as I returned to rickety JFK.) This time around, in Shanghai, the Expo theme is “better life.” Cargill’s developed its strategy to riff on the theme; not especially high-tech, but potentially effective.

According to a company press release: “During the Shanghai 2010 World Expo, Cargill volunteers will invite Chinese rural children to visit Expo 2010 as part of Cargill’s plan to promote the Expo’s ” Better Life” theme to the countryside as well as cities. “The development of Cargill is deeply rooted in rural communities,” said Norwell Coquillard. “…Cargill’s participation in the Expo will help promote a ‘Better Life’ not only in cities, but also in the countryside with our active engagement in rural areas.” Does this mean more feed-intensive factory farms? And more KFCs selling “nuggetized” grain-fed (with Cargill feed?), intensely confined chickens.

Ellen R. Eliasoph, Co-Chair of the U.S. pavilion, remarked (without irony, and according to the Cargill release; italics ours): “We are proud to welcome Cargill as a Pavilion Partner of the USA National Pavilion. Cargill has a rich heritage in agri-business and food dating back to 1865 and a long history in China. Cargill’s corporate focus on sustainable development of agriculture and food safety management is an excellent fit with the primary themes of the USA National Pavilion: sustainability and health.

Another peculiar news story from the annals of agribusinesse: some of the largest U.S. food corporations are pledging funds to Haiti earthquake victims: Hormel, Cargill, Yum Brands, and even McDonalds, which is donating 50 cents from the sale of Big Macs at its outlets in Latin America during a few days in January. Pork magazine has the story (as if there isn’t an irony there). Of course, to many observers, Haiti is an object lesson in the dire consequences of losing national food security to the exigencies of industrial agriculture and the global marketplace. Haiti, it’s fair to say, has been hungry for years.