Cargill: the company feeding the world and helping destroy the planet

When it comes to explaining the impact of America’s second biggest private company on your life, no one puts it better than the company itself.

“We are the flour in your bread,” says one of Cargill’s corporate brochures, “the wheat in your noodles, the salt on your fries. We are the corn in your tortillas, the chocolate in your dessert, the sweetener in your soft drink. We are the oil in your salad dressing and the beef, pork or chicken you eat for dinner. We are the cotton in your clothing, the backing on your carpet and the fertiliser in your field.’”

Photo: Greenpeace

In its 155 years, Cargill has insinuated itself into almost every aspect of global agribusiness, transforming the way human beings produce and consume food. It has made its owners into billionaires. And its ascent has played out to a steady backdrop of controversy, most recently the revelation that its supply chain has been linked with vast deforestation – related to extensive fires – in Brazil’s crucial Cerrado region. It is the latest in a string of scandals affecting Cargill including fatal food poisonings, deforestation, agricultural pollution and allegations of child enslaved labour.

Cargill is as controversial as it is enormous – and yet you have almost certainly never heard of it. How, then, has this corporate juggernaut managed to keep such a low profile? And what has it been doing while the rest of us have been looking elsewhere?

Ecostorm’s Lucy Michaels and Pat Thomas contributed research and reporting to this major TBIJ investigation into one of the world’s biggest food companies.