Herald and Review
DECATUR - A group of shareholders asked for the same thing last year: a report disclosing what genetically modified foods are used by Archer Daniels Midland Co.
And just as last year, the group didn't convince a large percentage of its peers to vote in favor of the proposal. At ADM's annual meeting Thursday, only 7 percent agreed a report was necessary, according to a preliminary count.
As shareholder Martin Glotzer put it while defending his "no" vote, he likes to see "proposals that put money in our pockets immediately."
But the issue is one getting attention from the company regardless.
Last year was record-setting for ADM, which posted earnings of more than $1 billion, or $1.59 per share, in the year ended June 30. Earnings were $495 million, or 76 cents per share, the year before.
"At the market close yesterday afternoon, our shares were trading on the New York Stock Exchange near our record-high valuation in the more than 100-year history of the company," said G. Allen Andreas, chairman and chief executive officer.
The company's favorable report left few real challenges to discuss at the meeting, and the session's issues mainly focused on the future, including the plan for increased ethanol production at ADM and the leadership of the company.
Andreas said the company's search for a new chief executive officer and president are being done "from a position of strength to maintain continuity and ensure a seamless transition." He'll eventually move to the role of executive chairman.
On the topic of genetically modified foods, Andreas noted that the company still meets some resistance to the products in Europe and Japan, but the rest of the world is increasingly accepting them. He said fewer chemicals are needed to grow new seed varieties, though opponents don't necessarily believe that to be true.
This debate on genetically modified grain isn't new. For every grain association singing praise for crop innovations, there's another organization to criticize the techniques.
But Patricia A. Daly, who presented the shareholder proposal on behalf of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, thinks she's making some progress with ADM on the topic. Daly is executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, a New Jersey-based member of the center. The center is a coalition of religious institutional shareholders that address issues of corporate social responsibility.
Despite Daly's East Coast residence, she hasn't been a stranger to Decatur this year.
After the failed resolution last year, the organization's members have been on the phone with ADM. Last month, they met with executives in town.
"Through that dialogue ¦ we appreciate the level of due diligence that the company has given to product identification in the market. It's in the company's self-interest to be more transparent about its diligence."
The goal is complete public disclosure on ADM's genetically modified foods, Daly said. Right now, however, the effort put forth by the company to meet with concerned shareholders is a measure of ADM's good faith.
She also pointed out that the company recently joined Business for Social Responsibility, a group that advocates corporate responsibility on social issues. ADM spokeswoman Karla Miller said ADM became a member about two months ago.
Gene Stephens, who has owned ADM stock for about a decade, said he isn't too concerned about the issue of genetically modified foods. Then again, he said, there's a lot he doesn't understand about the issue.
The Forsyth resident said he didn't learn much during the annual meeting that he hadn't already heard through news reports, most of them pleasing to his portfolio.
"They're going up," he said of the company.
Amy Hoak can be reached at
or (410) 421-7972.