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.
Much 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