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Food, Energy Tycoons Made $1 Billion Every 2 Days During Pandemic

  • Food and energy billionaires made $453 billion in the last two years, per Oxfam.
  • Energy and food prices have skyrocketed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
  • US consumer inflation is hovering around a four-decade high.

Soaring food and energy prices are hitting consumers the world over — but they have boosted the wealth of billionaires in these sectors by about $453 billion in the last two years, or about $1 billion every two days, according to Oxfam.

The surge in billionaires’ fortunes comes as food and energy companies post record-high profits amid the pandemic, “even as wages have barely budged and workers struggle with decades-high prices,” the UK-based nonprofit wrote in its latest report, released Monday.

“Five of the largest energy companies (BP, Shell, TotalEnergies, Exxon and Chevron) are together making $2,600 profit every second, and there are now 62 new food billionaires,” according to Oxfam calculations. 

Oxfam based its calculations on 310 billionaires on the Forbes Billionaires List in the food, agri-business, oil, gas, and coal sectors. Their combined wealth now is $1.5 trillion — up from over $1 trillion since March 2020.

Energy and food prices have been on the uptick since the pandemic started in 2020 due to supply chain disruptions. They gained further after Russia invaded Ukraine. Both countries are major producers of energy and food.

The US Consumer Price Index — a measure of the country’s price growth — climbed 8.3% in the year through April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the pace of inflation slowed in April, it was still around the four-decade high of 8.5% in March.

The ABCD quartet

Monopolies “are especially common” in the energy, food, and pharma sectors, contributing to a rise in billionaire fortunes, Oxfam wrote.

“Together with just three other companies, the Cargill family controls 70 percent of the global agricultural market,” the non-profit wrote. Oxfam did not name the three other companies, but world’s dominant food companies are known in the industry as the “ABCD” quartet after their initials: Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus.

Cargill is the biggest private company in the US, per Forbes. In 2021, the company recorded a $5 billion profit — the largest in its 156-year history, according to an August Bloomberg report that cited data the company released for fundraising purposes. Cargill stopped releasing its results in 2020. 

The Cargill-MacMillan clan, which owns the business, has also gotten richer. The family now has 12 billionaires, up from eight before the pandemic, according to Oxfam’s report, which uses the Forbes Billionaires List from various years.

‘Profiting from pain and suffering’

As the super-rich get even wealthier, “millions of others are skipping meals, turning off the heating, falling behind on bills and wondering what they can possibly do next to survive,” Gabriela Bucher, the executive director of Oxfam International, said in a press release.

Oxfam also took aim at the pharmaceutical and tech industries, which have experienced windfalls from the pandemic.

“The extremely rich and powerful are profiting from pain and suffering. This is unconscionable,” said Bucher.

“Some have grown rich by denying billions of people access to vaccines, others by exploiting rising food and energy prices. They are paying out massive bonuses and dividends while paying as little tax as possible,” Bucher added.

Oxfam is calling for permanent wealth taxes on the super-rich and “one-off solidarity taxes on billionaires’ pandemic windfalls” that will go into supporting those struggling with energy and food inflation. It also proposed a “temporary excess profit tax” of 90% on the windfall profits of big companies across all industries.

Three groups of wealthy people from Patriotic Millionaires, Patriotic Millionaires UK, and taxmenow echoed Oxfam’s call against extreme wealth. In an announcement on Sunday, they called for wealth taxes to narrow inequality and “help deal with the cost of living scandal playing out in multiple nations around the world.”