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Letter From the Editor: Deciding to Walk the Transparency Talk

Opinion

Back from my trip to south Georgia, there was a pile of Greeley Tribunes to catch up with. Usually that doesn’t take long, but to my surprise, JBS USA, which is headquartered on the west edge of our city and which owns the historic Greeley beef plant, is doing some straight talking with our local daily.

It comes as the Brazilian-based parent company continues to make major business news in the United States with its purchase of Cargill Inc.’s pork business for $1.45 billion. The deal goes further in making the company’s Greeley-based JBS USA subsidiary even more of a world protein industry powerhouse.

Greeleywranglers_406x250Much of our local newspaper coverage is Greeley-oriented, the sort of stuff cities with headquarter companies want to know about the intentions of their major employers. But some of the reporting out of JBS USA’s headquarters in Greeley will interest anybody who follows the industry for whatever reason.

The Tribune’s business writer, Sharon Dunn, reports it was the first time since JBS SA (the parent company) bought out Swift & Co. in 2007 that the local newspaper was invited in for “an informal discussion about their future in Northern Colorado.” When it acquired Swift, JBS SA took title to the historic and then-troubled 47-year-old Greeley beef plant.

It was hurting, with only 800 employees on one shift producing far below the plant’s capacity. Federal immigration cops raided it when Swift ran it, and E. coli O157:H7 contamination led to massive product recalls. These turned out to be only more chapters in a long history.

Legendary cattlemen Warren Montfort and his son Kenny made the Greeley beef plant happen with their Monfort Packing Co. in 1960. It went public 10 years later. Kenny’s sons, Charlie and Dick Monfort, followed their father in the livestock and meatpacking businesses and remained for a time even after the Greeley plant was sold, first to ConAgra and then to Swift.

Charlie and Dick Monfort are better known today for owning and managing the Colorado Rockies, Denver’s major league baseball team. For the past seven years, northern Colorado did not hear much talk coming out of JBS USA, but it could watch what the company was doing.

Today, the Greeley beef plant provides jobs to about 3,100 workers and the JBS USA headquarters staff numbers about 1,000. The Greeley plant is slaughtering about 5,000 head of cattle per day. The company spends $2 billion a year buying cattle here in Weld County, one of the top-10 richest agricultural counties in the country, according to USDA.

JBS USA has consolidated corporate staff from four other locations to the Greeley headquarters. JBS arrived in Northern Colorado in time for the Great Recession, and the company made it clear nothing was certain when they arrived, but they’ve come to find it’s a location that works for them.

So, for the moment at least, dozens of other communities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico with JBS USA plants will be looking toward Greeley as the company comes to dominate the various protein markets. And additional Tribune reporting last week by agricultural reporter Kayla Young noted that JBS has decided to embrace transparency. It’s a move certain to be sparking discussions at the executive levels of Tyson, Cargill, and the others.

In June, JBS reportedly hosted a group of national media professionals and then a bunch of Colorado chefs picked by the Colorado Beef Council for very thorough plant tours on days when about 4,800 head of cattle were killed and processed in the plant. Those groups also were not the first to be invited in for all they’d like to see.

Bill Rupp, who heads the JBS USA beef division, told the Tribune that the company has decided it’s time to “tell its own story” because if it does not, someone else will.

It appears to be pretty good evidence that at least JBS executives are taking advice from industry friends, such as well-known animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin and Beef Industry Hall of Fame President Chuck Jolley, who have urged the industry to open up if they want to maintain public confidence as more people want to know what goes on inside animal agriculture.

And that’s sound advice.

Animal agriculture, which is always bemoaning how only 1 percent (or fewer) of Americans have any direct experience with their industry, should look to enlist the employees of its manufacturing sector to help tell its story. That means making sure employees are not isolated from the communities where they work.

Just as it’s good for these visitors to see what’s going on inside, let people with inquiring minds also hear from the people who work on the inside.

I know someone said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegans. Cute saying, but not true. People can still shut their eyes if they want, and companies like JBS that do open up will always give visitors the option not to take the “harvest” tour leg through the “kill” floor. But enough will take it to take the mystery out of that, too.

As for myself, I’ve “been there” and “done that.” The closest I want to get to the cattle industry is attending the 93rd annual Greeley Stampede, one of the major professional cowboy rodeos and the biggest Fourth of July parade on the planet. It probably has something to do with why the Greeley-JBS marriage just may be working.

© Food Safety News
  • heavyhanded

    Transparency, is not a plant tour, it is COOL. JBS is against COOL. This looks like JBS is using a bit of PR as they will be exporting their Brazilian and some Argentinian beef to USA.

    • Tyla

      We desperately need that Brazilian and Argentinean beef to bring down sky high beef prices here in America. It is good to know people in Brazil and Argentina still know how to grow beef. American beef producers have really screwed up. I’m really looking forward to reading on the label “Product of Brazil” and “Product of Argentina”. It’s going to save our family a ridiculous amount of money, I know that.

  • practicalMainer

    hh you are spot on about real transparency. Only a tiny fraction of people will want to tour a meat packing factory while the consumer will be left in the dark about the origin of their protein.

    • heavyhanded

      Thanks practicalMainer , you see the big picture. If you hit on the link in Dan’s opinion piece the article from the Colorado Tribune contains a quote from the JBS communications director Cameron Bruett. He makes the bogus comment that 20-30 years ago americans weren’t interested where their beef came from! A lot of americans remember the marketing program from the beef industry that started back then, it was ‘Beef it’s what’s for dinner” the spokesman was Robert Mitchum, soon after he died and up till recently it was Sam Elliot. So ask any American then and now where their beef comes from of course the answer would be the USA.

  • MaryFinelli

    If animal agriculture really wanted the public to know the truth about it, it would stop trying to get ag gag laws passed, which are an affront to an informed public. The last thing industry wants people to know is the truth about what it does to animals.

    I’m very sorry to see that you enjoy rodeo, Mr. Flynn. Talk about blatant animal abuse! See, for example: http://sharkonline.org/index.php/animal-cruelty/rodeo-cruelty

  • Pat

    Transparency is fine. It isn’t like agriculture has been keeping secrets (contrary to fears of silly conspiracy theorists), it’s just that most Americans simply are not all that interested…or unduly concerned so long as USDA, FSIS, APHIS are doing the oversight we are paying them the big tax dollars to do. Among the tiny, tiny minority of interested public are those cranky effetes who voice “concern”. But their dramatic overbearing “concerns” are petulant, opportunistic, shifty and agenda driven. Offering transparency to such hatemongers is a complete waste of time and resources. Inviting the professionally ignorant to expand their horizons will be exquisitely frustrating, there’s just no percentage in it.

    Good, however, that the plants have regained their seilf esteem and stopped being cowed by the carping minority. Amerian agriculture is a remarkable national success story. Abundant, safe, affordable food unlike anything ever experienced before. And still, a small handful of individuals (invariably well fed people) complain they have a problem with that. If by some colossal misfortune we were all forced to live in the fantasy world of the chronic complainer’s dreams, well then truly we would all have serious daily issues to be gravely concerned about. Grave fundamental concerns, many of which brought about the evolution of modern agriculture to relieve our natural state of cyclic famine and plague in the first place. Ignore commands to march to the left and backward.

    Happy Independence Day!!!

    • Mark Caponigro

      It’s unclear what you mean, when you suggest agriculture has not been “keeping secrets.” Where in the world do ag-gag laws come from, then?

      And who in the world are the “carping minority”? There are millions of chickens killed daily in the US — they’re a minority?

  • Mark Caponigro

    “Protein industry” is a lie, a deceitful name devised by businessmen who believe this will make them and their products more attractive to money-paying consumers. It does not deserve to be picked up, accepted and repeated by journalists who think of themselves as independent.

    The truth is more like this: 1. We don’t need in our diets nearly as much protein as we’ve been led to believe we do; in fact, too much protein can be a problem. 2. We don’t have any special need for animal-source protein (which presumably is what the “protein industry” businessmen think we’re supposed to be thinking about when we hear “protein”). 3. There are many plant foods that are rich in protein. 4. All the protein we need can be derived from plant-source foods.

    As for the saying “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegans”: I agree that it’s not true, but I don’t agree that it is a “cute saying,” and I strongly believe that many people who are now meat-eaters would reduce the amount of meat in their diet if they saw the deaths, and the kind of deaths, that animals were made to suffer in order for them to enjoy a service of meat. Whether it’s as easy to visit a slaughterhouse as some people here assert, I don’t know. Anyway, slaughterhouses are usually located at some distance from where most Americans live, so it’s not exactly convenient to visit them. If transparency were indeed a matter of high value to the owners and managers of slaughterhouses, they should install a live-action video animal cam, even as a number of wildlife organizations have done, to see what’s going on with animals remote from interested viewers.

    • J. E. Morgan

      Truly if you deplore the harvesting of animal protein, as you claim, why then do you prefer transparency in the process? What morbid curiosity is satisfied by viewing that which you claim to find revolting? This behavioral schism betrays deeper psychological issues that should be addressed before they manifest in other, more socially unacceptable behaviors. Recall how the Rev. Jim Bakker and the Rev. Jimmie Lee Swaggart brought themselves down. No doubt the internet porn industry flourishes to satiate the same impulses.