Robert Watson, a top ingredient buyer for Kraft Foods, needed $20,000 to pay his taxes. So he called a broker for a California tomato processor that for years had been paying him bribes to get its products into Kraft’s plants.
Days later, federal agents descended on Kraft’s offices near Chicago and confronted Mr. Watson. He admitted his role in a bribery scheme that has laid bare a startling vein of corruption in the food industry.
Since the scheme also involved millions of pounds of tomato products with high levels of mold or other defects, the case has raised serious questions about how well food manufacturers safeguard the quality of their ingredients.
Over the last 14 months, Mr. Watson and three other purchasing managers, at Frito-Lay, Safeway and B&G Foods, have pleaded guilty to taking bribes. Five people connected to one of the nation’s largest tomato processors, SK Foods, have also admitted taking part in the scheme.
SK Foods shipped its customers millions of pounds of bulk tomato paste and puree that fell short of basic quality standards, with falsified documentation to mask the problems. Often that meant mold counts so high the sale should have been prohibited under federal law.
The bribery and racketeering scheme going on between key players at major food companies has been labeled an "anomaly," but it is likely far from an isolated case
This is not only an issue of corrupt business practices; it’s one that threatens the safety of the food on your family’s dinner table.
Among the latest allegations are charges that SK Foods, which is now bankrupt but was formerly one of the largest tomato processors in the U.S., was shipping tomatoes with high mold counts and other defects, then falsifying documentation to show that the shipments met federal mold limits.
Like other players in big business, those running the food industry are out to make a profit, and often this comes at the expense of your health.
Toxic Food Additives Approved by Bribes and Manipulation
The underhanded dealings allegedly going on between SK Foods and individuals at Kraft Foods reminds me of two other very prominent examples of manipulation among the food industry.
Once you become familiar with what’s really going on behind the scenes, even at the regulatory level, stories like this will no longer shock you.
First, take aspartame, the most controversial food additive in history. Its approval for use in food was the most contested in FDA history. In the end, the artificial sweetener was approved, not on scientific grounds, but rather because of strong political and financial pressure. After all, aspartame was previously listed by the Pentagon as a biochemical warfare agent!
It’s hard to believe such a chemical would be allowed into the food supply, but it was, and it has been wreaking silent havoc with people’s health for the past 30 years.
You can read the entire history of fraud and deception here, but to put in a nutshell the evidence that showed aspartame was harmful was ignored or falsified, and it was pushed through the FDA’s approval process by a select few who stood to benefit handsomely from its profits.
Likewise, Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH/rbST), which has been banned in Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand because of cancer risks and other health concerns, was approved in the United States under similarly disturbing circumstances.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t even require that rBGH be adequately tested before allowing it on the market. Normally, a standard test of new biochemically produced products and animal drugs requires 24 months of testing with several hundred rats. But rBGH was tested for only 90 days on 30 rats.
Canadian government officials, meanwhile, were not buying it. Reports allege that Monsanto had tried to bribe them with offers of $1 million to $2 million to gain approval for rBGH (Monsanto officials say those funds were for "research"), but they declined!
And it’s not just rBGH that’s the problem … that genetically modified foods have been allowed to infiltrate the market at all is another lesson in the corruption of the food industry.
Major Problems Threatening the U.S. Food System
These issues go far beyond a few underhanded bribery schemes and shipments of moldy tomato products. The very food we depend on to survive is slowly being degraded, devalued, and de-humanized by giant corporations.
Gone are the days when farmers grew food naturally without the use of industrial factory techniques, Nowadays, with the exception of the small but growing movement of organic and sustainable farmers, it may surprise you to learn that farming -- once the symbol of all that’s natural and wholesome -- creates some of the worst pollution in the United States.
Further, the food crops currently subsidized are corn, wheat, soy and rice. Growing little else but corn and soy means we end up with a fast food diet. In essence, these commodity programs are subsidies for the creation of junk and fast food, not REAL food that could have a positive impact on public health.
The average American is now 10 pounds overweight, which translates into $250 billion in added yearly health care costs, not to mention a shorter lifespan.
But in addition to producing little else but fast food, this type of monoculture is also very dependent on fossil fuels.
As Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma, has stated, we’re actually eating oil -- we just don’t know it. Because when you grow one type of crop almost exclusively, you deplete the soil, which means you have to use more fertilizer, which is made from fossil fuel. Monocultures also invite more pests, which need to be treated with ever increasing amounts of pesticides – also made from fossil fuel.
Cheap food is actually incredibly expensive once everything is added up, including stratospheric health care costs, continued dependence on fossil fuels, and the destruction of the earth as a whole.
Stay Informed to Find Healthier Food
There are still safe food options out there, but it does take a bit of digging to find them. Your local grocery store is generally NOT going to be the best source for healthy, fresh food.
So, short of starting your own sustainable farm (which you can do on a small-scale in your own backyard), you can find safe food options by supporting sustainable agriculture movements in your area.
Make it a point to only buy food from a source you know and trust, one that uses safe and non-toxic farming methods. You’ll receive nutritious food from a source that you can trust, and you’ll be supporting the honest work of a real family farm instead of an agri-business corporation.
Further, knowledge truly is power, and the more people become informed, the faster it will prompt real change to come about. Several wonderful movies that will give you an excellent overview of the problems with modern agriculture, which I highly recommend you watch and share with your friends and family, are: