Mixed thoughts on Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
October 11, 2014
A top-down, corporate fascist regime controlling every entity in the beef supply chain, including and specifically targeting the cow-calf producer is how Newcastle, Wyoming rancher and former attorney Tracy Hunt explained the goal of the recently formed Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB).
Hunt spoke at the 123rd South Dakota Stockgrowers Association's (SDSGA) annual convention in Rapid City, Sept. 26-27, and shared with attendees his personal findings regarding GRSB and how it is already working to permanently change U.S. beef production.
"The GRSB started in 2014, and is comprised of about 350 people who came together and decided they want to create what they call sustainable beef. Who are these people: Packers, restaurants, processors, retailers, associations, banks and environmental groups. Wal-Mart, McDonalds, JBS, Cargill, Allflex, Merck, Elanco, the Rainforest Alliance and the World Wildlife Foundation. No producers, and the only producer representation is the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), who are thus far in full support of the GRSB," explained Hunt.
He said the group intends to follow and implement the Tyson model within the beef industry. The model includes three primary points: full chain traceability, third party verification and continuous industry improvement.
"The Tyson model seeks to extract all inefficacies out of the supply chain. This happened in the poultry world when Tyson took full control of the entire production chain, except the growing of the chickens. They arranged financing with individual people for that aspect, then tracked those farmers between the delivery of the chick and when they picked up the chicken, and subjected them to a price turn," explained Hunt.
The growers competed against each other on parameters and a basis they weren't made privy to, much like third party verification, and were paid based on performance reports they also did not see.
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"Even if you did everything right, with chicken and feed all supplied by Tyson, you might get 4.5 cents per pound instead of 6 cents per pound. Tyson keeps fantastic data on those chickens, but they regard it as proprietary information and won't share it with the farmers, so they do not know what they did right or wrong. The result, according to Tyson, is that their chicken business is good for the consumer because they can always get affordable poultry. But, that top-down planning impacted the farmer grower in every phase of his operation, including how he obtains profit. That is now the plan for the beef industry," continued Hunt.
The GRSB website states "We envision a world in which all aspects of the beef value chain are environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable." It further states they do not plan to mandate anything, but rather collaborate through a Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI), which is a set of principles for sustainable beef farming that McDonalds has already publicly stated they are committed to.
These principles include no inappropriate medical procedures, including castration and dehorning, no branding, full traceability of individual animals and feedstuffs, and allowing cattle to "express normal, non-harmful, social behaviors and should have the company of their own kind (unless isolated on veterinary advice)."
"What this means for you is full chain traceability with full radio frequency ear tags being put in at birth. They then believe that they hold a big enough share of the market that they can compel you to do whatever else they want or they will deny you market access with your cattle. This is because once full system traceability is in place they literally have the keys to your chicken house," noted Hunt.
The GRSB website further states that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) will be responsible for providing direction to those conducting third party verifications on the condition of a rancher's environmental sustainability.
"If you look on the WWF website at their great vision, they have never given up on the idea of a buffalo common. They have a handful of places selected in the world as being the most critical environmentally endangered habitats on the planet, and we are in the middle of one of them. They will be the group verifying the condition of your environmental sustainability, and prior to 2010 they publicly stated they felt ag land use posed the biggest threat to these critical habitats they have identified," explained Hunt.
When combined, the full-chain traceability and third party verification will enable the GRSB to exert additional marketing power and position over producers throughout the beef production chain, denying market access to those who do not fully comply.
"We already see this to an extent. We've all heard the stories of the buyer passing on a lot of fats, sometimes for greener cattle in the same lot. Or the one of there being three fat cattle buyers in an area, but only one will bid on cattle in each lot so the price becomes a take it or leave option versus a bidding scenario.
"Those actions by the packing industry have caused more and more people to forward contract cattle, creating a thinner and thinner live market. If full-chain traceability and third-party verification go into place, they will create additional incentives to forward contract. Then, when the live market is practically non-existent, all of those premiums associated with being traceable and third-party verified will disappear on the parameters that there is no longer a live market to use as comparison. At that point the situation becomes that of the chicken grower – there is no longer a live market, and the producer must create cattle to fit an exact model in order to receive whatever price is available on a given day," explained Hunt.
If the U.S. allows it, an influx of South American cattle could also play a major role in creating leverage to push U.S. producers to fit a specific model.
"If they lift the Brazilian beef embargo, they will then have the leverage to require these things, and state that if U.S. producers won't follow such requirements, they have someone else who will," said Hunt.
When asked how to respond to such a group, Hunt suggested keeping the fight strong against a mandatory, traceable ear tag.
"If they force that ear tag on us, it's the same thing as sinking our ship. Should we be forced to take an ear tag, I am a strong proponent that the information on it should not be confidential. If it is confidential they will know everything on that tag, and I'm willing to bet they won't share any of it with you. I feel we would be better off with full disclosure so we all know what they're doing, how many head are being killed and fed, and the quality of our animals," he said.
Taking the time to visit with fellow producer and agriculture organizations was another suggestion Hunt provided.
"We have to get together and start talking about these people and issues to ensure we are aware of what is going on. I am also interested in visiting with the NCBA – they're your and I's voice and they never mentioned this at their recent national convention? I find it frustrating that the entity acting as my voice in this group isn't saying a word to me about any of this. That creates all the more reason to become self-informed on this and other critically important issues," he said.