Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

High Fructose Corn Syrup: The Shocking Story Behind How It Came to Be

I personally know a whistle blower.  You may have heard of him — Mark Whitacre, former President of a subsidiary of ADM – Archer Daniels Midland, known as “The Supermarket to the World”.  ADM makes a billion dollars a year from the sale of high fructose corn syrup.

I know Mark Whitacre because I went to elementary and high school with him.  We went to Little Miami High School in Morrow Ohio in the 60’s and 70’s.   I always thought of him as the class clown — every body liked him.  He had straight blond hair that framed a handsome, baby face.  His popularity easily got him elected as our senior class president.  Not known for being studious or even brainy, it was a shock to me when I heard he became a PhD and had a stellar career at ADM that later crashed and burned with the “price fixing” scandal that you certainly read about in the papers in the 90’s.  Watch a video interview of Mark Whitacre.

Well, I recently became aware of a non-fiction book that was written about Mark Whitacre and his whistle blowing experience and naturally I wanted to read it.  (It actually was published in 2000 – I’m a little behind the times).  The book is titled The Informant, by Kurt Eichenwald.

Anyway, it is fascinating and I can’t put it down.  Here is a paragraph from the book on page 25 that talks about how high fructose corn syrup came to prominence in our foods:

“With Andreas having locked in his role as a Washington power broker, federal agricultural policies began to align smoothly with ADM’s interests.  Federal sugar programs become one of Washington’s most sacred cows.  Through price supports and quotas, the programs kept the cost of sugar high — gifting billions to sugar producers while pushing consumer-product companies to save money by using high-fructose corn syrup, a sweenener made by ADM.  In time, that created a billion-dollar-a-year market for ADM, which sold its product at a higher price than would have been possible absent government intervention.  In the decades that followed, many Americans would comment that the Coke or Pepsi they drank as children somehow tasted different, not knowing that the change had been largely the result of a switch of sweeteners dictated by government policies that favored ADM.”

The “Andreas” person is Dwayne Andreas, the soybean king, chairman and chief executive of ADM who became more powerful than most politicians and had relationships with world leaders including Regan, Gorbachev, Hubert Humphrey, Nixon, and others.

If you didn’t know the power of special interest groups before, then this should give you a bad taste of the truth.  There is so much going on in Washington that we don’t know.  Why else would politicians spend millions of dollars to get elected for a job that only pays $250,000 a year?  Power!

You have got to read the book.  Additionally, the book is being made into a movie, starring Matt Damon.  The release date is March of 2009.

  1. Mark Whitacre is my father. He would enjoy hearing from you. Several former classmates from his school days in Ohio have made contact with him and they have corresponded with one another. My father is currently filming this week in Decatur, Illinois a Discovery Channel documentary, titled “Undercover Hero”, with the three FBI agents he worked with in the early 1990s. I will show him your blog after he returns home this weekend. His e-mail address is at the bottom of the website link,
    http://www.markwhitacre.com/current.html . “Rats in the Grain” by James Lieber is another book regarding my father’s case and it is worth reading if you would like to see even more insight into the power of special interest groups in the food industry. The “power of special interest groups” is the central focus of the book, “Rats in the Grain”.

  2. ARW: Thanks for introducing yourself. Per your suggestion, I just sent your Dad an email to get caught up on old times. I didn’t really know your mother, Ginger. She was a class or two behind me.

  3. I cannot believe that after all of the things that came out about what Mark Whitacre did, he could be represented, in any light, as a hero. Yes, the price fixing was wrong. It needed to end. But I have a hard time believing that someone like Whitacre, did anything out of the need to do what was right. Embezzlement was only the tip of the iceberg, when it came to his misdeeds. He is the type of person who would make up career-ending allegations against a colleague, on the basis of, greed, insanity, unwillingness to assume responsibility for his own misdeeds…my father worked with Mr. Whitacre, and while you may assume that I am biases, because I am his child, I can assure you that my father is one of the most honest, ethical, and hardest-working men I have ever met. He was also a biochemist, and while he had the smarts to scale the corporate ladder at a rate as fast as someone like Whitacre, he has always been interesting in research, product development, and just doing his job to the best of his ability. At one time, he even considered Mr. Whitacre to be a respected colleague. However, among his other self-serving misdeeds, Whitacre created false allegations of corporate sabotage. Why he did this, I am not sure, but certainly, when he began making these claims, he was either insane enough to not even realize that these types of allegations ruin the careers of innocent men, or else he just plain didn’t care. A lot of it did get pinned on my dad, and I remember him losing sleep over it at night. Of course, in the end, it all comes out in the wash, and once everyoe figured out Whitacre was a nutcase and a thief, nobody took his word for Gospel anymore…and yet, my dad’s career never recovered, after he was blamed for product failure and suspected of sabotage…

    I don’t care if the whistle-blowing resulted in something nomenally good. To me, tattling alone does not a hero make, and all the stories of being a born-again Christian, and how God willed him to find another high-powered exec job, post release from prison, make me SICK. He will never be a hero, in the eyes of me, or anyone who was affected by his self-serving lies.

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