Early Sunday morning in Fort Collins, CO, police got to try out their tear gas and mobile field-in-force tactics after fights broke out after a Bohemian Nights concert. Before the riot was over, fires were started, windows were smashed, and 14 people were injured.
All that should be cleaned up by Friday when US Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will be in Fort Collins to kick off another of the joint Department of Justice (DOJ) /USDA workshops to discuss antitrust issues involving the nation’s agricultural industry.
And some might say Friday’s joint workshop at the Lory Student Center on the campus of Colorado State University will be the one that gets to the “meat” of the issue, as this is the session that will address economic concentration in the beef and hog industries.
While there probably won’t be another riot, the DOJ/USDA organizers are taking precautions against things getting out of hand. They’ve banned participants from taking in any bags, banners, or “political materials.”
There will be some politicking the night before at the Marriott Hotel of Fort Collins in a 5 p.m. dinner and 7 p.m. public forum sponsored by Food & Water Watch, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, and R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America).
The sponsoring groups for the dinner and public forum say:
-Over a half-million ranching operations have been eliminated in the U.S. since 1980, a 41 percent decline.
-Four corporations slaughter more than 4 out of every 5 head of beef cattle.
-Beef packing has expanded beyond slaughter and processing to now own their own cattle, operating feedlots and controlling supply through all stages of production.
-Real consumer prices for ground beef are up 24 percent over the decade, but prices for beef cattle are up only 8.5 percent.
-Hog farmers have declined from 240,000 in 1992 to fewer than 70,000 in 2007, a 70 percent decline.
-The 4 largest pork producers slaughter 2 out of every 3 hogs.
In a letter to boost attendance by western cattlemen to Friday’s workshop, R-CALF’s leaders called the antitrust workshop “the most important day in the history of your U.S. cattle industry…”
“The purpose of this meeting is to determine if the will of U.S. cattle producers and Rural Americans that immediate, aggressive action be taken to restore competition to the U.S. cattle industry,” R-CALF President R.M. (Max) Thornsberry and CEO Bill Bullard said.
In picking Fort Collins for the joint workshop, DOJ/USDA both put the event near many an independent cattlemen, but also near the home town of Greeley, CO-based JBS USA Holdings Inc, the American arm of JBS SA, largest beef processor in the world. It is one of the largest employers in the Fort Collins-Greeley area.
Three previous joint DOJ/USDA workshops have been held since March. The earlier workshops in Ankeny, IA, Normal, AL, and Madison, WS focused on introductory issues and the poultry and dairy industries.