Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Corrupt Tomatoes

For the past nine years we've been told that one of our biggest threats just might be terrorist attacks on our food supply. It turns out that the threat came from an entirely different source: big business. From the Los Angeles Times:

In a series of court filings starting in 2008, federal prosecutors in Sacramento allege that Rahal, nine others and SK Foods of Monterey, Calif., used more than $330,000 in bribes from 1998 to 2008 to subvert competition and nail down deals to sell the company's tomato paste, peppers and other products to Kraft Foods Inc., Safeway Inc., Frito-Lay North America and B&G Foods, among others.

All but one of the individuals have pleaded guilty to offenses typically associated with organized crime: racketeering, collusion, bribery, money laundering and bid-rigging. Five of the people worked for SK Foods; four were employed by its customers. SK Foods' sales plummeted as the case unfolded and it was sold out of Bankruptcy Court last year to a Singapore firm.

Federal prosecutors, however, say the investigation into SK Foods is just the beginning as the government ramps up its scrutiny of the food sector.

Behind the push are growing concerns that, as the industry becomes increasingly consolidated, the public's grocery bills are getting bigger in part from corrupt or monopolistic practices among food processors, distributors or farmers.

Step into a grocery store these days and on almost every aisle there's an item tied to a federal investigation: dairy distributors, egg producers, citrus firms and seed developers are all the targets of federal lawsuits or investigations. Starting next month, the Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will hold meetings to gather complaints and hear concerns over lack of competition in the dairy, grain, livestock and poultry sectors.
[Emphasis added]

What is noteworthy about the SK Foods cases is that there was corruption in the company which depended on the corruptibility of certain employees in their customers' operation. Apparently that was no problem at the big-name food companies listed in the article.

That the Department of Justice has been aware of these shenanigans for several years and has aggressively pursued them is good news. That the jerks working for Kraft and Frito-Lay and the other food giants got nailed for taking the money is also good news.

I don't think we need to worry as much about foreign grown terrorists as we do our own corporate giants for whom the bottom line is more important than providing safe and affordable food.

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