A “giant leap” in global food prices caused by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has helped three members of the super-rich Cargill family, who majority-own one of the world’s largest food companies, join the ranks of the world’s 500 richest people.
Siblings James Cargill, Austen Cargill and Marianne Liebmann – all great-grandchildren of William Wallace Cargill, who founded the Cargill company in 1865 – this week joined the Bloomberg Billionaires list of the richest 500 people alive. Each of them has an estimated $5.4bn (£4.1bn) fortune – up a fifth so far this year.
They join Cargill’s other great-grandchildren Pauline Keinath and Gwendolyn Sontheim Meyer on the richest 500 list. They each have fortunes of about $8.06bn.
Their fortunes track those of the giant Cargill food company, which employs more than 155,000 staff in 70 countries, and is expected to report record profits this year, outstripping 2021’s record-breaking $5bn profit.
The United Nations this month warned that global food prices had soared to a record high because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization said its food price index rose by 12.6% in March compared with February, “making a giant leap to a new highest level since its inception in 1990”.
The UN said the war in Ukraine “spread shocks through markets for staple grains and vegetable oils”. The price of cereals, vegetable oils and meat have all reached all-times highs, the agency said.
The war has disrupted Black Sea exports of crucial commodities from a region that had been producing more than a quarter of the world’s wheat exports.
The invasion has helped push cereal prices up 17% over the past month, with the closure of ports throttling wheat and maize exports from Ukraine. Russian exports have also been slowed by financial and shipping problems.
World wheat prices soared by 19.7% during March, while maize prices posted a 19.1% month-on-month increase, hitting a record high along with those of barley and sorghum.
Food prices were already rising before Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and Cargill’s chief executive, David MacLennan, had said he expected them to remain high throughout 2022.
Cargill, which has its headquarters in Minnesota, reported a 63% increase in profits last year to almost $4.93bn – the biggest in its 157-year history. Revenues rose by 17% to $134bn.
Andrew Speke of the High Pay Centre thinktank, which campaigns for a fairer society, said the soaring wealth of the Cargill family was “a depressing indictment of our current economic model – one which has enabled a tiny minority to grow ever richer despite the longest freeze of living standards in the modern era and a cost of living crisis which is threatening to impoverish millions”.
He added: “Now more than ever, it is essential that governments take serious action to redistribute wealth from the super-rich to those on low and middle incomes.”
Three more Cargill family members – Alexandra Daitch, Sarah MacMillan and Lucy Stitzer – are also billionaires. The extended family controls about 87% of the company and is ranked as the 11th richest family in the world, with a collective fortune of about $50bn.
Eric Muňoz, Oxfam America’s senior policy adviser for agriculture, said: “Right now, we’re seeing food prices skyrocket, which is taking a devastating toll on the most vulnerable communities. Exorbitant food prices, alongside the Covid-19 pandemic are pushing families in countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and South Sudan to the breaking point – meanwhile, the richest have seen their profits soar. We must see urgent action to save lives now and to address the inequality, broken food system and other root causes that are driving this crisis.”
Gemma McGough, a British entrepreneur and a founding member of Patriotic Millionaires UK, a group campaigning for the introduction of a wealth tax on the world’s richest people to help close the inequality gap, said the Cargill family’s soaring wealth was yet another example of “the grotesque failure of our global economy”.
She said: “We are in a state of multiple crises, and governments cannot continue to stand by while hunger and food poverty increases and the wealth of a select few soars. It is essential that we rebalance our economies, taxing the wealth of people like me, and invest in systems that can support the millions of families currently unable to feed their children.”