October 1, 2002 -- Vegparadise News Bureau
During the last few years fast food giants like McDonald's and Burger King have introduced vegetarian foods on their menus. Some of us have said we will not accept these products from companies that are responsible for the murder of millions of animals each year.
Others have said that asking the public to use these vegetarian items will encourage these companies to offer more vegetarian options and thus reduce the number of animals slaughtered for food.
Those desiring to boycott products of companies who are responsible for killing numerous animals will have little difficulty in deciding not to patronize companies like McDonald's and Burger King.
More problematic for them is knowing which giant suppliers of meat products have numerous other brands that have no relationship to animals or meat.
One such organization is ConAgra Foods, Inc.
ConAgra, the number two U.S. food conglomerate behind Kraft Foods, has many faces. ConAgra means "in partnership with the land." Ironically, this large producer of beef, pork, fish, and chicken is also the parent company of Lightlife, one of the most successful marketers of totally vegan meat substitutes.
Lightlife, purchased by ConAgra in 2000, began its operations in an abandoned carwash 19 years ago. In the following years the company developed a product line that includes well-known names like Fakin Bacon, Gimme Lean Sausage, Foney Boloney, Savory Seitan, Lightburgers, Smart Dogs, Tofu Pups, and Smart Deli Slices.
ConAgra also produces Advantage 10, an array of low-fat vegetarian frozen foods that has been endorsed by Dr. Dean Ornish, an advocate of a low-fat diet designed to reverse heart disease.
At the same time that vegetarians were purchasing these products, their omnivore friends were startled by headlines that people were dying from E. coli-laced beef that was being distributed by this company. In July of this year the company had to recall more than 18 million pounds of ground beef because of E. coli contamination.
Once the meat was recalled it did not have to be destroyed. According to a Denver Post story of August 2, this meat can be used for people or pets or in non-food products like fertilizer. According to USDA regulations this is legal. The only requirement is that the meat be cooked at a high temperature.
According to federal records, one large supply of tainted meat was shipped to International Home Foods, a ConAgra company that produces foods with the Chef Boyardee and Libby's labels.
The Denver Post on July 26, 2002 documented the shipment of the recalled meat to a Colorado prison where it was knowingly cooked and fed to the prison inmates. The tainted meat was produced at the Monfort plant in Greeley. Monfort, one of the leading meat companies in the United States, was absorbed by ConAgra in 1987. Monfort's operation includes feeding and slaughtering cattle and lambs, meat packing, producing meat products for hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets, and distributing and transporting the products to its customers.
Monfort is one of the many acquisitions of ConAgra, a company that began in 1919 when Alva Kinney combined four grain milling companies in Nebraska to form Nebraska Consolidated Mills Company. By 1940 the company expanded by opening a flour mill and an animal feed mill. Their research focused on creating prepared foods that used flour. One of the products developed was Duncan Hines cake mixes introduced in the 1950's.
Because the company had difficulty competing with General Mills and Pillsbury in the prepared foods market, it decided to leave that industry and sold the Duncan Hines mixes to Procter and Gamble. In the 1960's Nebraska Consolidated Mills developed poultry growing and processing facilities in Georgia, Louisiana, and Alabama. The company also focused on mills and distribution centers for animal feed and flour in the Southeast and Northwest.
By the 1970's the company decided to change its name to ConAgra because it was no longer just a Nebraska business. During that period expansion and acquisitions created problems that almost drove ConAgra into bankruptcy. The company sold off some of its less profitable operations and began a new expansion by purchasing Banquet Foods to increase its chicken production.
Looking to new opportunities for expansion, ConAgra diversified into agricultural chemicals and fertilizers. Their next purchase was United Agri Products, a distributor of pesticides and herbicides.
In the 1980's ConAgra moved into seafood production by acquiring three fish processing companies that included labels like Sea-Alaska Products and Taste O' Sea. That same decade they became one of the leading chicken producers by absorbing Country Poultry, Inc. The company also inaugurated ConAgra Turkey Company.
Acquisitions continued in the '80's with the purchase of Armour Food Company, a well-known processor of hot dogs, sausage, bacon, ham, lunchmeats, and Dinner Classics frozen dinners. A few years later the Swift brand pork, beef, and lamb products were added to the ConAgra roster.
In 1988 Charles Harper, company president, boasted that ConAgra was probably the only company to "participate across the entire food chain."
The 1990's began with the acquisition of Beatrice Company with its well-known Hunt's Tomato Paste, Wesson Oil, and Butterball Turkey. ConAgra continued its expansion by absorbing National Foods, producer of kosher Hebrew National lunchmeats. The company also debuted their new low fat, low sodium, low cholesterol Healthy Choice frozen dinners. In 1993 Advertising Age magazine described Healthy Choice as the "most successful new food brand introduction in two decades."
Visitors to supermarkets and health food stores will find an array of familiar brand names that are now part of the ConAgra family. It would be exceedingly difficult to walk down any aisle of a giant market without seeing one of their brands. That walk through the market brings us back to our moral/ethical dilemma.
The frozen food cases are likely to contain items with the Healthy Choice, Banquet, and Marie Callender's labels.
Throughout the store one would be surprised to find so many brands that are in the ConAgra repertoire including household names like Hunt's, Wesson, Orville Redenbacher's, Parkay, Reddi-wip, Knott's Berry Farm, and more.
We at VIP have difficulty resolving this moral dilemma for ourselves. We feel that if a company produces outstanding vegan foods, their efforts should be supported and encouraged because they are providing alternatives to animal products. Lightlife and Advantage 10 are quality meat substitutes that are part of a trend of making vegan products more accessible. Hopefully, the marketing muscle of ConAgra will make these items more readily available to the public.
On the other hand ConAgra remains one of the largest producers of chicken, meat, and fish products. By buying their vegetarian items and non-animal products, we are contributing to the profits of a company that is harming animals, human health, and the environment. Perhaps, someday ConAgra can turn away from its despicable slaughterhouses and focus more on healthy foods that are not tainted with E. coli, feces, and animal blood. Until they do, we all have the same dilemma.
For those interested in knowing the brand names in the ConAgra family, VIP is producing following list:
ACT II, Andy Capp's Snacks, Armour
Banquet, Big Mama Sausage, Blue Bonnet, Bumble Bee, Butterball
Campfire Marshmallows, Chef Boyardee, Chun King, Cook's Ham, Country Pride, Country Skillet, County Line, Crunch 'n Munch, Culturelle
David and Sons, Decker, Dennison's
EA Miller Blue Ribbon Angus and Beef, Eckrich, Egg Beaters
Gebhardt, Gilardi Foods, Guldens
Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Homestyle Bakes, Hunt's
Kid Cuisine, Knott's Berry Farm
La Choy, Libby's, Lightlife, Luck's, Lunch Makers
Mama Rosa's, Manwich, Margherita Italian Specialties, Marie Callender's, Move Over Butter
Oldham's Farm, Orville Redenbacher's
PAM, Parkay, Patio, Pemmican, Penrose, Peter Pan,
Ranch Style, Ready Crisp, Reddi-wip, Ro'Tel, Rosarita
Slim Jim, Swift Premium, Swiss Miss
Texas Signature Foods, Treasure Cave
Webber Farms, Wesson, Wolf Brand Chili, Wolfgang Puck