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Sharon Rabe


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Farm Bureau Services, Inc., Agra Land, Inc., and PBB

In early 1973, Farm Bureau Services, Inc. (FBS) accidentally received in a single shipment a fire retardant chemical product known as polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) from a supplier along with and instead of the feed additive magnesium oxide (MgO). These two products were off-white powders typically shipped in 40 lb plain brown paper bags with the product identification only stenciled on a small section of the bag.

FBS accidentally mixed the PBB into dairy feed assuming it was MgO. In late 1973, a dairyman observed milk production and health problems in his herd. In the spring of 1974, the ingredient PBB was discovered along with the mistake that had occurred.

However, in addition to the shipping error, a final factor caused the PBB problem to become much more widespread. PBB contained electrostatic charges which caused it to cling to metal surfaces (like styrofoam does to everything). As a result, barely detectable quantities of PBB remained behind in mixers, storage bins, funnels, and conveyers and came in contact with many different animal feeds besides dairy feed.

This PBB incident created over 1,000 claims by farmers for damages. In addition, many lawsuits, clean-up expenses, and legal fees severely impacted FBS financially. Finally, adverse economic conditions, high interest rates, and lost sales caused FBS to sustain significant bottom line losses in almost every year from 1974 to 1981.

FBS filed for reorganization Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. Federal Court October 1, 1982. FBS emerged from bankruptcy protection March 1, 1984 with a new name (Agra Land, Inc), logo, financing, and image. However, this company also failed.