USDA Investigates Alleged Grain Watering By ConAgra
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Agriculture Department has been investigating whether the agribusiness giant ConAgra Inc. has been wetting grain to make it heavier and therefore more expensive.
Constant Chevalier, regional inspector general for the Agriculture Department in Chicago, said a report of the yearlong investigation may be complete within the next two weeks.
The investigation examined grain handling at the approximately 80 elevators owned by Peavey Co., a division of ConAgra, in a number of states.
The government allows grain wetting to control grain dust, which can build up and cause explosions. But excess water can add to bushel weight, increasing the price.
In a related development, the Federal Grain Inspection Service confirmed it has prepared regulations that would ban nearly all uses of water on grain. Neal Porter, director of compliance for the agency, said the proposed rules are being reviewed by Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.
Complaints by grain buyers helped prompt the new rules, he said.
The company confirmed the wetting investigation, which it says began because of complaints about four elevators near Terre Haute, Ind. Lynn Phares, spokeswoman for Omaha-based ConAgra, said the company has corrected problems at those elevators.
″The other locations around the country were unaffected,″ said Tom Racciatti, president of Peavey, based in Minneapolis. The company handles about a billion bushels of grain a year, he said.
″The four in question are well under 5 percent of our overall total,″ he said.
News of the investigation appeared in today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, which reported a growing use of water nationwide to increase grain weight.
Racciatti said that as a result of the investigation, the company cut off the water-based dust suppressors at the Indiana elevators. He said the company is still using water to suppress dust at other locations.
″We think it’s the best way,″ he said. Other methods include a light coating of oil on grain and suction to remove dust.