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Lesson Transcript

Becky: Hello everyone! Welcome back to EnglishClass101.com. This is Culture Class, Season 3, Lesson 23 - The Top 5 Most Powerful Companies in Food and Agriculture. I’m Becky.
Eric: And I’m Eric. It's great to be with you for this lesson. What are we looking at this time?
Becky: In this lesson, we'll talk about the 5 richest and most powerful companies in the food and agriculture industry.
Eric: There's quite a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it!
Becky: Number 5 of our Top 5 Most Powerful Companies in Food and Agriculture is McDonald’s.
Eric: McDonald’s started in 1940 and has since grown to be the world’s largest hamburger fast food restaurant.
Becky: It currently operates in 119 countries and has over 34,000 restaurants worldwide.
Eric: McDonald’s power comes from decades of research on hunger and appetite. McDonald’s knows, better than almost any other corporation in the world, how to make food that you'll find tasty and how to make you want to eat it.
Becky: Of course, the fact that they're everywhere makes them powerful as well. A friend of mine was able to travel in Europe for six months. After he returned, he wrote a letter to McDonald’s thanking them for being everywhere.
Eric: Was it really that important?
Becky: To him it was. Whenever he was hungry and in some new place with a new language and new food, he could always walk into a McDonald’s and say “Big Mac” and know exactly what he was getting.
Eric: I guess that’s comforting. You have a piece of the United States wherever you go.
Becky: The best part is that he’s Brazilian. McDonald’s is so common even there that it’s become part of their city landscape just the same as in the US.
Eric: They also have a lot of power over children. Many of their advertisements are directed towards children. They know that if they can get the child to want to go, the parents have to take them there.
Becky: That’s one of the main reasons they have those children’s playgrounds. If the kids are happy the parents are happy, even if the food isn’t very healthy.
Eric: Who’s next on our list?
Becky: Number 4 in our Top 5 Most Powerful Companies in Food and Agriculture is John Deere.
Eric: John Deere is an American corporation that is the world's leading manufacturer of agricultural machinery. In other words, they sell tractors, combine harvesters, balers, planters, sprayers, and UTVs.
Becky: The John Deere Company was founded by John Deere in 1837. John Deere was a blacksmith who invented a steel plow that could plow the difficult soil in the midwest of the United States.
Eric: His invention made him rich, but his motto was that he would never sell a product that didn’t have the best of himself in it.
Becky: The John Deere company still uses that as their motto and their products are respected around the world for their high quality and durability.
Eric: The John Deere company has an estimated yearly revenue of $26 billion and is ranked 97th on the Fortune 500.
Becky: They also manufacture heavy equipment for construction and forestry. A smaller commercial division sells many types of lawn mowers and snowmobiles.
Eric: They have factories all over the world and employ roughly 55,000 people.
Becky: It’s definitely one of the most recognizable brands. It even gets mentions in country songs.
Eric: Okay, number 3 of our Top 5 Most Powerful Companies in Food and Agriculture is The Coca-Cola company.
Becky: The Coca-Cola company was founded by Asa Candler, who became a multi-millionaire.
Eric: However, he was not the inventor of Coca-Cola. The formula for Coca-Cola was invented by a pharmacist named John Pemberton. Pemberton sold his formula to Candler for about $500.
Becky: The Coca-Cola company now makes just under $50 billion per year in revenue and has purchased many other beverage companies around the world, including Minute Maid, Odwalla, and Barqs.
Eric: Coca-Cola produces well over 100 different brands of drinks worldwide including Fanta, Sprite, Dasani, and Powerade.
Becky: It is a massive company and influences the beverage market, as well as national governments.
Eric: For example, the Coca-Cola company is the only company legally authorized to import leaves from the coca plant. The coca plant is where cocaine comes from.
Becky: In fact, the original formula of Coca-Cola had cocaine in it, but that was removed more than 100 years ago. The same leaves are used in the formula, but the process has changed so that there isn’t any cocaine in it anymore.
Eric: Okay, who’s next on our list?
Becky: Number 2 of our Top 5 Most Powerful Companies in Food and Agriculture is Monsanto.
Eric: Monsanto is a multinational agricultural corporation. They are most famous for their herbicides, specifically Roundup.
Becky: Roundup was a huge success and currently Roundup and its derivatives make up about 50% of all revenue for Monsanto.
Eric: However, that isn’t why they are powerful or influential.
Becky: No, no it isn’t. The real reason Monsanto is on this list is because they're the world leader in genetically modified seeds. Specifically, seeds that are resistant to Roundup.
Eric: That’s right. Even though Roundup was such a huge success, when they used it too much, it would kill the crops as well as the weeds.
Becky: So Monsanto developed two types of seeds. First was a seed that could resist Roundup. This was important and sold very well.
Eric: Second, and much more controversial, were seeds that had Roundup and other pesticides in their genetic code. This meant that if a bug ate or a weed grew on this plant, it would die.
Becky: This product and the technique to genetically modify them has made Monsanto the unchallenged leader in genetically modified seeds. However, not everyone is on board. A lot of people have criticized Monsanto’s business practices and 19 countries in Europe have banned growing genetically modified seeds, citing environmental concerns.
Eric: Okay, who’s our number one?
Becky: Number 1 in our Top 5 Most Powerful Companies in Food and Agriculture is Walmart.
Eric: Walmart was founded in 1962 by Sam Walton as a single grocery store.
Becky: It’s now the largest retailer in the world, the biggest private employer in the world with around 2 million employees worldwide, and is one of the world’s most valuable companies.
Eric: Now, Walmart is big and everything, but it might seem strange that it’s on this list since Walmart doesn’t actually own any farms or produce any food.
Becky: Right. Walmart is a distributor, not a producer. So Walmart makes agreements with companies to sell their products in the Walmart stores.
Eric: That’s how they make money and where their influence is found. Walmart is such a huge company that they control the prices of things sold in their stores.
Becky: Let's give a hypothetical example. First, imagine I’m a corn farmer and I want to sell my corn for $2 per pound. There’s a Walmart in the town nearby so I contact them to negotiate.
Eric: Okay I’m following you.
Becky: But Walmart says they’ll only pay $1.50 for my corn. Since Walmart is such a large corporation, there’s no way for me to negotiate. If Walmart says $1.50, then that’s the end of the story.
Eric: And they do this with everything from corn to blenders. This affects how much money farmers can make by selling their corn to Walmart.
Becky: Walmart also affects how much farmers can charge for their crops when they sell to other companies, so they can’t just sell to someone else. For example, imagine I want to sell my corn to another company that makes corn chips.
Eric: Okay.
Becky: The corn chip company has been given similar price restrictions from Walmart, which means they can only pay me $1.25 per pound.
Eric: Interesting.
Becky: This is one of the reasons Walmart is criticized heavily by local farmers, the media, and other grocery stores.
Eric: However, Walmart's low prices have made many expensive things much more accessible to lower-income families.
Becky: That’s right. The influence of Walmart on the world economy just cannot be overstated. It is tremendous.
Eric: Okay, that’s all for this lesson.
Becky: Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time!
Eric: Bye!

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