R-CALF objects to Tyson’s supplier-audit plans

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Last week, Tyson Foods Inc. announced the launch of its Tyson FarmCheck program, which will include animal-welfare audits of beef, pork and poultry farms that supply animals to the meatpacker’s plants.

R-CALF USA this week criticized the plan, saying it “exemplifies supply-chain control found only in monopolistic markets.”

It its news release announcing the FarmCheck program, Tyson describes it as a service to its farmers, customers and consumers. The company says the audits already are underway on a trial basis with some hog farms, and will expand to include chicken and cattle farms by January 2014.

"We believe the farmers who supply us are the best in the world, and I think the audits will verify this," says Tyson president and CEO Donnie Smith. "But, if we find problems, we want them fixed right away.

"Where else but in a monopoly controlled market can a corporation infringe on the private property rights of independent farmers and ranchers to extract valuable marketing information without having to pay a dime?" asked R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

 According to Bullard and R-CALF, the program is “nothing but a means by which the mega-corporation can exert its muscle to violate the privacy of hard-working, independent family farm and ranch cattle producers; extract from those independent family cattle producers valuable marketing information at no cost; and then charge consumers a premium price for the information it has extracted for free.”

Tyson claims to be the first major meat packer to provide this type of audit, but of course, supplier audits are common across many industries. Wal-Mart, for example, in its 2009 Sustainability Report, says it conducted 11,500 audits in more than 7,000 supplier factories during 2008. And that was down 19 percent from 2007.

For years, McDonald’s and other large restaurant chains have required animal-welfare audits of packing plants from which they purchase their meat.

Also, animal-welfare audits are not new to livestock producers, although the programs have been voluntary. Several organizations including Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved and the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) offer audits and certifications producers can use to improve their management and marketing. For information on these programs, read Comparing welfare standards from Drovers/CattleNetwork.

From Tyson’s release, it is somewhat unclear what the audits would entail and exactly whom they would audit. The company currently is assembling a group of experts to set standards and audit procedures. The release notes that Tyson works with more than 12,000 independent livestock and poultry farmers, including 5,000 family poultry farmers, 3,000 family hog farmers and 4,000 family cattle farmers.

In any case, R-CALF views the audits as exploitation. "If Tyson wants this valuable marketing information, it should offer a premium to family farmers and ranchers who wish to participate,” Bullard says. “But, Tyson knows it possesses monopolistic power in the U.S. cattle market and it is brazenly exercising its monopolistic power to exploit independent U.S. family farmers and ranchers.

R-CALF says it will ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately investigate Tyson's FarmCheck program before it goes into effect to determine if it violates U.S. antitrust laws and the Packers and Stockyards Act by eliminating choices and competition for independent U.S. farmers and ranchers.

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Kansas City, MO  |  October, 16, 2012 at 09:12 AM

I thought we were all on the same side. Wouldn't we want to be able to prove that farmers and ranchers are doing what they should? You can bet any farmer that is treating his animals well, would welcome this audit to prove that he is taking care of his animals. Anyone who doesn't welcome it has something to hide.

Virginia  |  October, 16, 2012 at 05:32 PM

On the contrary, I would view it as an insult. We always took good care of our animals. I look at this the same way that I view the animal shelter's requirement that I go through a background check before they will allow me to adopt a stray.

Ohio  |  October, 16, 2012 at 09:26 AM

It is encouraging that R-CALF USA works for the independent cattle producer. Some one needs to stand up for those who are trod under by the monopolistic giants of the industry. Thank you R-CALF.

MT  |  October, 16, 2012 at 09:37 AM

What doesn't R-Calf object to? Do you ever see environmental groups publically airing their dirty laundry?

Montana  |  October, 16, 2012 at 09:45 AM

Wasn't it rcalf that got in bed with HSUS? HSUS has been harassing Tyson about their animal welfare policies that prompted Tyson to initiate the program. Thanks rcalf for your support of anti beef groups!

national  |  October, 16, 2012 at 09:47 AM

Where did powers in charge get the idea to assume all owners of livestock need someone to check them, to see if they are handling their stock right. Did someone in an office determine that hard working people who own and handle stock on a 24 hour basis are idiots, abusers, beat their cattle, and torture animals? Where did they decide they know more about animal care than the people who only profit from livestock that are well cared for? Something is vastly wrong here! Someone need to get their bubble in the middle.

MT  |  October, 16, 2012 at 09:54 AM

R-CALF knows a lot of its members won't pass the standards for animal welfare. They fear having their inferior husbandry practices exposed. How ironic that R-CALF also is sold out to anti-farm extremist organizations who carp relentlessly about animal rights and boutique foods and "know your farmer" and all that wishful puffery. As soon as real measures are taken these fakers do an about face and begin screaming victim. R_CALF has become a malicious farce, toadie to powerful organizations bent on destroying American agriculture. Down with R-CALF.

kansas  |  October, 16, 2012 at 09:58 AM

I wouldnt like being audited without being compensated for it. They will use the information to make money off either the producer or the consumer. ITS DEFINITELY A MONOPOLY ,BRAVO R-CALF /Although i wish you would pick your battles wisely. I think this is along the terms of Tyson trying to run a beef operation , like they run chicken /house contractors that they continously screw.We shouldnt alow them on our farms, ranches or feedyards. We all know Beefcattle are the most humanely raised animals in the united states. We dont need Tyson running our ranches, so they can control more of the market than they already do, this feels like walmart and big government trying to control us.

midwest  |  October, 16, 2012 at 10:00 AM

We are all considered guilty until proven innocent. Somehow we've let others define the argument. Now others are going to determine the standards. Who audits the auditors? While I recognize my responsibilities as a producer of food, I also see issues with the guilty-first approach, although I have no suggestions. The potential for the demise of any business whose validation is withheld irrespective of the quality of the products they produce is monsterous. Consider the potential for difference of opinion, personality conflicts, or corruption.

maarten drost    
Florida  |  October, 16, 2012 at 10:07 AM

Tyson should consider inviting an R Calf representative to join their inspection team on the farm. MD

Texas  |  October, 16, 2012 at 10:57 AM

Tyson has stepped in "it" as far as I am concerned. They have fallen head over heels for their musloid workers. I don't need to know anymore about Tyson and certainly will not purchase anything with a Tyson label. I do not support any company who supports anything islam.

SW MO  |  October, 16, 2012 at 11:01 AM

I'm with Jasper. My first thought too was that R-CALF is fearful of what an audit of their members' farms might reveal. Once again R-CALF stands in the way of proactive producers attempting to do a better job of assuring the consuming public we have a quality product produced in a humane manner. R-CALF is the hemorrhoid in our industry. Just when you think the've settled down and you're going to enjoy a good run, they flare up bring us grief.

South Dakota  |  October, 16, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Bill Bullard and R-CALF --YOU CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS! Hello! If you are worried about "mega-corporations exerting its muscle to violate the privacy of hard-working, independent family farm and ranch cattle producers", you should not have gotten in bed with HSUS because you are clueless as to what you have unleashed by hiring the HSUS lawyers to go against the independent farm, ranch and cattle producers! If it wasn't such a serious matter, I would find it amusing as I read how you talk out of both sides of your mouth, over, and over, and over, and over again!

Kansas  |  October, 16, 2012 at 03:07 PM

Ranches and feedlots make money on the principle of supply and demand they same as any other producer of commodities. If Tyson can audit the farms they receive there product from and increase consumer confidence or increase penetration of foreign markets the ranches and feedlots will benefit through increased demand. Instead of fighting among ourselves we as an industry need to take every opportunity we can to make the consumer feel better and want more of our product.

TX  |  October, 16, 2012 at 04:52 PM

Tyson (or any other auditor) is welcome to come to my ranch any time. I have a $500 per person gate admission fee to cover my costs of time and information that they may need.

Colorado  |  October, 16, 2012 at 06:11 PM

What is so hard to understand. Animal rights groups have convinced the public that every restaurant and grocery store must certify that the pigs are not in crates and the cows are not abused and the cattle are properly cared for. So the suppliers of these markets have to prove to their customers that all is good in the world. To prove that they have to certify that their suppliers are following good animal handling practices. The customers influenced by the animal rights groups have caused this. You on the ranches wise up and get in the game. You that resist may find yourselves without a market and it will not be anyone's fault but you're own. Tyson and Cargill and JBS and Smithfield and Murphy Brown and others are not the enemy here. They are trying to stay in business. You do not like it then get involved and pass legislation to stop it. God knows we have been trying for years to keep it real.

October, 16, 2012 at 07:06 PM

“But, Tyson knows it possesses monopolistic power in the U.S. cattle market******." " Wait, wait, you just figured this out now?"

Colo  |  October, 16, 2012 at 11:14 PM

R CALF is out of touch with the business world. They create a problem that does not exist with hope it will bring in member dues to be wasted on frivolous efforts.

colo  |  October, 16, 2012 at 11:17 PM

R-CALF would do anything to gain membership dues. Why not ask Tyson for money for doing nothing.

IA  |  October, 17, 2012 at 05:44 AM

Because every really good memorable road trip requires the participation of at least one completely out-of-control joker to assure we are thoroughly embarrassed and summarily thrown out of even the lowliest bars and hotels. Be sure to include a bail bondsman in the mix, too. R-CALF and Food & Water Watch and HSUS and "Meatless Mondays"...what is left to say?

New Ulm, MN  |  October, 17, 2012 at 09:45 AM

When will these folks get a clue?

SD  |  October, 18, 2012 at 11:55 AM

R-CALF management refuses to accept the fact that it takes only two bidders to have competition. Unfortunately, they are able to convince too many cattle growers that isn't true.....thus keeping their membership as loyal as sheep to a herder! They also REQUIRE a 'bogyman' to keep the donations coming in. Seems to be a new one at least quarterly. One generally sees the donations increase in proportion to the sowing of fear among their followers. It would be great to see them gobbled up by their perceived 'saviors' among Water Keepers, HSUS, numerous other activist groups they seem eager to court, except for some real 'innocents' getting harmed in the process.

sam Johnson    
Ohio  |  October, 30, 2012 at 12:58 PM

And I am expected to take your word for it? No thanks I do not know you that well. All public companies are required to be audited for various isssues, namley financials. Or as Ronald Reagan used to say "trust, but verify!"

sam Johnson    
Ohio  |  October, 30, 2012 at 12:58 PM

And I am expected to take your word for it? No thanks I do not know you that well. All public companies are required to be audited for various isssues, namley financials. Or as Ronald Reagan used to say "trust, but verify!"

minnesota  |  November, 07, 2012 at 04:57 PM

I truly believe that most people who choose animal production for their livelihood want to do the right thing. However, the reality is there are things that happen in our industries that would not appear OK to the average suburban consumer shopping in the meat case. As producers we need to face the brutal facts that we have not done a good job of leading the dialogue in this area. If we believe in what we are doing we need to be willing to educate our consumers before someone else does. We also need to be willing to examine some practices that do need to change and challenge ourselves to find better approaches where needed. I don't see this as a big company interfering, I see this as an opportunity to up our game and take the lead.

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