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Beans Are His Bag


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BEANS ARE HIS BAG

SUPERMARKETER TO THE WORLD By E. J. Kahn Jr.

Warner Books 320pp $24.95

Since Armand Hammer's death in 1990, one U. S. executive has taken over as capitalism's biggest salesman in Moscow: Dwayne O. Andreas. But Andreas, chairman of grain processor Archer Daniels Midland Co., has many other facets. He is also the key force behind the ethanol fuel industry, a powerful nemesis of the Chicago commodities markets, and earth's No. 1 fan of that hairy legume, the soybean.

From his roots as a Mennonite farm boy, Andreas has built a global grain empire worth more than $8.8 billion. In Supermarketer to the World, veteran New Yorker writer E. J. Kahn Jr. offers a fascinating though flawed portrait of the surprisingly little-known magnate.

Forget the power connections in New York, the luxury condo in Bal Harbour, Fla., the Falcon 900 jet. It's the soybean that defines Andreas. Visitors to ADM's Decatur (Ill.) headquarters rarely leave without a bellyful of soy something. Kahn dutifully records Andreas' assertions that armies should march on soy-filled stomachs, world hunger could be ended by soy, and U. S. consumers will one day crave soy-based "vegeburgers."

All that would be so much tofu were it not for Andreas' ability to make business plus politics equal profit. Andreas alone persuaded Congress to create the 54~-per-gallon subsidy that makes ethanol, distilled from corn, a viable product. He also won regulatory acceptance of biodegradable plastics impregnated with cornstarch.

Unfortunately, Kahn is decidedly uncritical. A ruckus over Andreas' contributions to the family of a Commodity Futures Trading Commission appointee is retold strictly from Andreas' vantage, for example. And his logrolling for ethanol subsidies is glossed over.

"Getting information from me," Andreas recently told a group of securities analysts, "is like trying to frisk a seal." When Kahn gets a grip on his subject, Supermarketer is great reading. Too often, though, Andreas wriggles away.DAVID GREISING


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