The Big Picture: Corn stars in a blockbuster

THE INFORMANT! HIGHLIGHTS A BLACK SPOT IN THE HISTORY OF CORN

it’s not every day that corn is the focus of a blockbuster movie. Of course, corn gets mentioned in a variety of documentaries, but rarely does the seemingly lowly plant warrant a character played by a Hollywood superstar and an Oscar winning director.

But, this past year saw just that. Unfortunately, Hollywood decided to highlight a black spot in the history of the ubiquitous plant in the recent hit, The Informant!. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and staring Matt Damon, the movie follows the life of Mark Whitacre as he becomes the highest ranking executive whistleblower. The whistle he is blowing is on the early 1990s corn ingredient price fixing scandal centred on ADM.

With the help of Whitacre, the FBI began an investigation of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in 1992 for suspected world wide price fixing of lysine, a corn-based animal feed additive. The investigation resulted in  the indictment of three top ADM officials and a fine of $100 million, the largest antitrust fine in US history at the time.

Although the movie seems to be bad press for a crop that is widely grown and utilized across the world, the dark comedy is more focused on Whitacre’s involvement in the FBI investigation and his subsequent embezzlement scheme than the wrongs of corporate corn suppliers at the time.

In fact, those same corporate corn suppliers the movie focuses on, ADM, took a proactive approach to handling the added attention the movie’s release was undoubtedly to bring. A section of ADM’s website is currently devoted to informing people on what happened in the early 1990s and what they have done to ensure nothing like that ever happens again.

In a video posted on ADM’s site, Victoria Podesta, VP of Corporate Communication explains that the ADM today is very different from the ADM highlighted in the film. In an effort to be open and responsive to interested parties, ADM spoke with the writers and director of the film, provided tours of their offices and processing plants and allowed filming on location. They also provided the movie makers with historical documents.

While it’s important to keep in mind that this is simply a Hollywood depiction of historical events, The Informant! is worth a trip to the local video rental shop. The comedy, although a little on the dark side and rated R for language, provides an entertaining look into the mind of an incredibly interesting character, Mark Whitacre as he strives to work for both his company, the FBI and ultimately, himself. 

Also worthwhile is a look at ADM’s comprehensive and prompt response to the film. For more information about their involvement in the scandal in the
1990s and the film along with information on the company today, visit their website at
www.adm.com and search for The Informant!. •