Food Tank Summit

November 16, 2016

Speaking remarks for Dave MacLennan
Food Tank Summit
November 16, 2016

Thanks, Danielle. It’s good to be in back in Chicago, a place I consider home, and on the campus of my alma mater.  

Cargill works every day to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way.

  • We have 150,000 people working in 70 countries.
  • For more than 150 years, we have been working with small- and large-scale farmers to source and move food around the world.

We’re proud to be working with our partners, many of whom are here today.

While Cargill is a big company, we’re not a household name.

  • That’s partly because we are privately owned. It’s also because we are mostly a business-to-business company.
  • People sometimes think that all big companies are inherently bad, or that because we are private, we must have something to hide.
  • The truth is, Cargill is a family-owned food, agriculture and nutrition company.
  • We don’t have all the answers and we don’t always get it right, but we are committed to building partnerships that strengthen our food system.


Today, when we talk about the future of our food system … and so many other issues … people can quickly get divided. 

  • Food is not like most other things. It’s emotional.
  • It’s about our ties to farmers and the land. It’s how we share our meals with the people we love. It knits together our social fabric. 

So, I am mindful that this is a deeply emotional topic at time in our country where we the very fabric that holds us together is stretched taut, I’m here today to talk about coming together to create unlikely alliances

  • I’ll outline three important priorities:
  1. Forcing courageous conversations and finding common ground,
  2. Getting creative, and
  3. Scaling up smart solutions.
  • This is just the start of an important conversation about what can happen when we work together and form new partnerships.

So how can we build unlikely alliances?

First, we need to force courageous conversations and find common ground.

  • Here is the truth: We won’t always agree on everything, but we can find shared values and priorities.
  • After 150 years in food, agriculture and nutrition, we have learned a simple but profound truth: When it comes to the future of food, there is no one size fits all solution.  
  • We need to embrace a diversity of approaches to keep our food system strong. 
  • We need to build GM- and non-GM supply chains. We need to lean into labeling and focus on greater transparency. And we need to find ways to nourish the world while protecting the planet. 
  • We need your help at this important crossroads as together, we work through challenging tradeoffs in our food system. 

Let me give you an example of where we found ourselves in the midst of a courageous conversation and managed to find common ground.

In the early 2000s, advocacy groups cautioned that soy was contributing to deforestation in the Amazon Basin.

  • NGOs and other stakeholders began calling on companies like Cargill to do more to reduce and eliminate deforestation by stopping purchases from farmers who were illegally clearing land.
  • Because we had a port terminal in Santarem on the edge of the Amazon, we found ourselves in the midst of a very public battle.

This was a turning point for Cargill – a moment of reckoning. 

  • We had to ask ourselves – by our presence there, were we contributing to the expansion of soy production in sensitive areas in that part of Brazil?
  • By working with unlikely partners, we saw with greater clarity our impact on global supply chains. We had started partnerships, but we knew we needed to do more.  


We worked with partners like The Nature Conservancy, Greenpeace, customers and even competitors to impose a voluntary ban on sourcing from newly deforested land.

  • During the first two-year period, we worked with the Brazilian government to strengthen regulation and issued a new satellite monitoring system.
  • This work was so successful that the moratorium was renewed and the monitoring system was taken over by the Brazilian government.
  • The moratorium contributed to an 80 percent decline in deforestation and we just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. 

I’ll be honest, at times this process was difficult, but it’s evidence of an important point: When we force courageous conversations and find common ground, we often see results that are better than we might have expected.

This brings me to the next priority in building unlikely alliances: We have to get creative to advance new solutions. 

For many, the Twin Cities is a great place to live, but like other American cities, the community around Cargill’s headquarters is faced with a significant achievement gap and widening socio-economic disparities.

  • Just 25 minutes from our office center is one of the leading U.S. food deserts.
  • Today, in North Minneapolis, more than 65,000 residents have access to 30 convenience stores and just one supermarket.
  • In a place where we need competition to drive affordability and provide greater access to safe, nutritious food, we see just the opposite.
  • This kind of entrenched injustice requires unlikely partners to come together and get creative.

So, Cargill is working with nonprofits, government, customers, health companies like Medtronic and other partners to support the creation of the North Market.

  • Scheduled to launch next year, this place will be so much more than a grocery store.
  • It will be a wellness center with health screenings and access to community services on site – a one-stop shop for fresh produce, diabetes screening, prenatal information and more.

When we work together to form unlikely alliances, we look at the intersecting issues – like food access, health challenges and market dynamics. Together, we can develop more creative and comprehensive approaches.

Finally, to build unlikely alliances, we shouldn’t be afraid of scale.

Cargill is passionate about incubating new ideas – but today, I’d like to challenge all of us to look beyond pilot projects and focus on scalable solutions.


We need to continue to innovate, but we also need to come together to see what happens when we test good ideas against real market pressures.


The private sector can help scale new solutions.

  • Today, Cargill is improving nutrition in India through fortification. In a country where 40 percent of children are malnourished, we scaled a program that added vitamins A and D to our top edible oil brands. This improved the nutrition profile of a dietary staple that now reaches 30 million consumers.
  • We are also delivering fresh poultry to small shopkeepers in Nicaragua. We scaled a program by using our fleet of refrigerated trucks to deliver chicken to 15,000 small shopkeepers – mostly women who have improved their lives by increasing their income.
  • Here in the U.S., we are a founding member of the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative. We are working with NGOs, including the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy and other companies such as Wal-mart, to scale a partnership that will work with farmers to improve soil health, conserve water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

In closing, I’d like to assert that what brings us together is far more powerful than what divides us – we all care about nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way.

So, let’s work together to form unlikely alliances. Let’s:

  • Force courageous conversations and find common ground,
  • Let’s get creative, and
  • Let’s scale smart solutions.

Let’s rise above the rhetoric and division and really work together. I look forward to continuing the dialogue. Thank you.