In 1892, disagreements among cattlemen about the use of the open range led to shootings, lynchings, and an open, armed conflict that came to be known as the Johnson County War.
It’s 118 years later, and disagreements among cattlemen over possible intervention by the federal government in markets and contracts is being played out in the new media with a war of words.
In the aftermath of the Aug. 27 joint DOJ/USDA workshop on antitrust issues in the cattle and hog businesses, a spokesman for the government intervention side wants to shoot the messengers for the other side.
Max Thornsberry, the veterinarian who is president of the Billings, MT-based Rancher-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF, USA) Tuesday called upon BEEF magazine, Drovers, and Beef Today to fire editors and a writer for being “disparaging and immensely disrespectful” to those who want “marketplace enforcement by USDA.”
The three editors coming in for Thornsberry’s wrath are BEEF magazine’s Joe Roybal, Beef Today’s Steve Cornett, and Drovers’ Greg Henderson. Cornett and Henderson should be fired for what they wrote, the R-CALF chief opined. Roybal should be fired for publishing what Troy Marshall wrote.
None of them is going to be fired or fall on their swords anytime soon.
Roybal told Food Safety News “Troy Marshall’s thoughts and those of the BEEF editorial staff are in harmony with what the vast majority of BEEF readership thinks.”
An online poll at www.beefmagazine.com shows 80 percent of 750 respondents thus far believe the proposed USDA Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule is negative for the U.S. beef industry.
“We’re in the process of doing a more in-depth survey of our readers for our October issues and we’ll then have a better handle on what our readership thinks,” said Roybal.
Roybal said Marshall has provided BEEF readers with “great insight” in reporting on GIPSA Administrator J. Dudley Butler’s prediction that the new rules will “open the floodgates” to litigation in the U.S. beef industry, and on R-CALF founder Pat Goggins’ opinion that the rules would be “a devastating blow” to the freedom of U.S. cattlemen.
“Dr. Thornsberry speaks for himself and, I suppose, the group that elected him president,” Beef Today’s Steve Cornett said. “We gave Dr. Thornsberry his own blog at AgWeb because his group represents a significant minority of producers who dislike the way agriculture is evolving.”
“These are difficult times for agriculture,” Cornett continued. “We are not surprised there are strong opinions. “We’ll try to keep covering them at www.beeftoday.com.”
Greg Henderson at Drovers was not immediately available for comment.
All three beef industry news sites had editorials prior to the Fort Collins workshop that depicted the meetings as “a colossal waste of time,” (BEEF); “shouting into the wind,” (Beef Today); and “wasted effort and wasted resources” (Drovers).
Thornsberry accused the writers of trying to depress attendance at the event headlined by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The workshop, attended by about 1,200 farmers and ranchers from throughout the U.S., both collected testimony on the proposed GIPSA rules and provided a forum on broader antitrust issues in the meat industry.
R-CALF, USA wants USDA to engage in what it calls “marketplace enforcement” to see that cattle are sold in an open and transparent market. Contracts between and among producers, feeders, and packers have replaced many of the same-day sales at stockyards that once dominated the cattle market.
Many cattlemen speaking at the workshop opposed getting the government involved in those contracts, and predicted the only winners would be the lawyers.