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- This Cattleman's Got A Beef
Photo: Sean Cayton - 2003People producing good food from happy animals, while improving the environment, shouldn’t have to fear the government.
Photo above featured in a 2003 article: This cattleman's got a beef, Mike Callicrate and Ranch Foods Direct take on the big meat packers by Kathryn Eastburn
- BIG Food Exposed
- Great Ranches of the West
Purchase Great Ranches of the West for only $34.95 and $20 will go to an Organization or Project of your choice!
"An eye opening and heart touching portrait of a culture and industry that we are in great danger of losing. This book will help readers understand the urgency of preserving the Western ranchlands inhabited by families and rural communities that provide nourishing food for our nation, preserve a healthy natural environment and entrust that great American values will endure."
- Mike Callicrate
An Endangered Species
Every month 1,000 ranches go out of production. It's the national security issue that no one is talking about.
Food Policy & LawE. Coli Confessions Part I
by John Munsell | Oct 11, 2011
Editor's Note: This is the first part in a series written by John Munsell of Miles City, MT, who explains how the small meat plant his family owned for 59 years ran afoul of USDA's meat inspection program. The events he writes about began a decade ago, but remain relevant today.
They say that confession is good for the soul. I've been involved in a series of ugly events since my plant in 2002 recalled 270 pounds of ground beef contaminated with E.coli O157:H7 and now want to admit the embarrassing truth for public review. more
Tagsadvanced meat recovery antibiotics beef checkoff Big Food BPI Callicrate Callicrate Beef Callicrate Cattle Co. Cargill Chipotle Colorado Springs Dudley Butler e. coli Eric Schlosser fast food nation food Inc. Foodopoly GIPSA HSUS IBP Industrial Agriculture JBS McDonald's meat packers Mike Callicrate Monsanto NCBA OCM Organization for Competitive Markets pink slime R-CALF Ranch Foods Direct Rick Hughes Smithfield Sodexo steroids Sysco Temple Grandin Tom Vilsack Tyson U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance USDA Vandana Shiva Walmart zilmax
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National News Supplement
This is a short film by Alex Suber and Julian Kraus-Polk. The film provides a glimpse of the foodscape in the Colorado Springs area. We highlight some of the local farmers who provide food to Colorado College students, including Larga Vista Farm, Ranch Foods Direct, and the Colorado College student farm. We hope to foster growth of our local food shed by inspiring more connectivity between the community of Colorado Springs and our local food purveyors.
Mike Callicrate, owner of Ranch Foods Direct (a local meat provider on the Front Range), and Randy Kruse, General Manager of Bon Appétit catering at Colorado College speak about food sourcing at Colorado College. They also discuss how the the food system in Colorado Springs is shifting to foster more local and sustainable agriculture.
Learn more at Sense of Place | Colorado College
In today’s unhealthy, unfair and broken corporate controlled industrial food system, more and more people want to know where their food comes from and how it’s produced. The biggest food companies on the planet are well aware of this fact and the shift towards local.
Farm to table and the new local food movement is being hijacked by Big Food. The world’s biggest food companies, including meat packers, processors and food distributors are carefully strategizing and planning on new ways to capture this growing market, intending to kill all possibilities of rebuilding healthy, locally based food systems that serve farmers, eaters, the environment, and livable communities. Small producers, lured by the siren call, are losing
everything they have – including federal grant money from USDA and other sources, believing the opportunity to connect to their local communities is real.
Since Ronald Reagan was President, antitrust law enforcement has been abandoned in favor of a globalized, no- rules food system. “It takes big companies to do business globally,” responded Ag Secretary Dan Glickman, when I asked him in 1999 why he didn’t enforce the Packers and Stockyards antitrust law. Captured government agencies refusing to enforce existing antitrust laws, failed litigation and legislative fixes have given Big Food the green light to continue their plundering and pillaging of the world’s farms and farmers.
Further concentrating the supply and distribution channels is crucial for Big Food to fully capture the global food system. It feels like a return to the time of the American Revolution when we rebelled against the abusive control of the British Empire and their East India Company partner.
Local producers are being pushed out of the new federally supported Farm to School programs by meat from big packers able to externalize costs, allowing them to sell below true costs of production. Some non-farmer owned further-processors of mostly commodity meat, struggling to survive in the predatory marketplace, are reprocessing and relabeling beef from these big meat packers including low grade imported meat, and stealing school lunch business from legitimate local producers. Schools, under budgetary pressures, are easily shifted away from higher cost, locally produced sources into these cheaper alternatives, which can now once again, without labeling, include additives like Pink Slime. Fake brands like JBS’s pleasant sounding Aspen Ridge or one of the infamous Koch Brother’s Seven X Ranch claim to be all the things consumers want, including locally sourced in the Colorado market.
From Chipotle to Whole Foods, Wall Street based companies continue to betray their promises to support local producers. Chipotle’s sourcing of beef from Australia is an affront to their “Food with Integrity” messaging. Their supplier of Australian beef, OSI, was caught recycling out-of- date chicken and packaging meat off the floor of their processing plant in China. Now that USDA has approved Chinese chicken imports, I wonder where Chipotle’s chicken will come from. There is no requirement to label meats by country of origin that are sold in the wholesale market. This needs to change.
Sysco, the world’s biggest food service company, is acting like their purchase of the second largest, U.S. Foods, has already been approved, but it hasn’t. For the first time since the Reagan administration, President Obama campaigned on a promise to restore fair markets in our farming and food system. He hasn’t.
If approved, Sysco’s power over both suppliers and customers will be unprecedented. Sysco will have Walmart-like buying power to dictate terms to the biggest companies on the planet, such as Cargill, JBS, Smithfield, and Tyson. And then, these powerful Sysco suppliers that cooperate rather than compete will exert even more downward pressure on already struggling and helpless farmers and ranchers around the world. Even the state-sponsored companies like Brazil’s JBS and China’s Smithfield will drop to their knees for Sysco as they currently do for Walmart. Sysco, eliminating the last local competitors with their predatory pricing, pretend labels and false claims to provide locally sourced products, will in turn force restaurant buyers to their knees and globally sourced, factory food onto their plates.
Since Reagan, the “de-reg” President, we’ve lost at least a million farmers; around 500,000, or over 42% of our ranchers; over 39,000 cattle feeding operations, including small farmer feeders; more than 90% of our hog farmers; over 80% of our dairymen; and most of our small meat and other food processors. Today, in the most concentrated, consolidated and monopolized marketplace in history, the largest companies in all three of our major meat categories are state- sponsored foreign-owned enterprises. We are unable to feed ourselves. Our valuable resources – from capital and labor to soil and water – are being extracted, our environment degraded, workers and animals abused, consumers exploited, rural communities gutted — and there is no Teddy Roosevelt in sight.
A few months ago, reporting on farm antibiotic use, I met a North Carolina farmer named Craig Watts. Craig lives in a small town near the South Carolina line where his forebears have been since the Carolinas were a British colony, and for more than 20 years, he has raised broiler chickens for Perdue Farms.
Watts went into chicken farming because, where he lives, there were not many alternatives. His parents and relatives had been row-crop farmers, but after the tobacco economy began to collapse, that looked like not a great way to make a living. Out of college, he began working as a field technician for an agricultural-chemicals company, but he disliked cubicle life and wanted to get back outside. When an advance man for Perdue came calling, showing spreadsheets of how lucrative chicken farming might be, he decided to give it a try.
It worked for him at first; he said that he was, intermittently, a top earner in the slaughterhouse complex that buys his chickens. But over the years, he chafed at the economic conditions the vertically integrated business imposed on farmers, who always seemed to get the raw end of the deal, and he grew increasingly uncomfortable with what intensive farming did to the chickens themselves. He began speaking out: first writing op-eds, then testifying at a government hearing exploring unfair contract conditions, and then talking to advocates and journalists.
And now he has taken his boldest step yet — really an extraordinary one, given the closed-door nature of most corporate farming: He has made a video, in cooperation with the animal-welfare group Compassion in World Farming, in which he escorts cameras into his broiler barns.
The video is a collaboration with Leah Garces, Compassion’s US director (who introduced me to Watts last summer). They appear onscreen together, walking through his broiler flock, discussing the strict company rules he operates under, and examining the sad condition of his birds: leg deformities, ulcerated bellies from barn litter soaked with urine, chicks too frail to eat or stand.
It is difficult to watch, but it is essential to view because it is so unusual. When we see video from inside intensive meat production, it is almost always something that was shot covertly by activists working undercover, trying to document conditions that consumers would not otherwise see. For a farmer to admit to letting activists in — and to appear with them on camera, explain the contract conditions he is compelled to work in, and document the poor health of the birds he is sent — is unheard-of. (And, for Watts, almost certainly a breach of contract. It will be important to keep track of whether he experiences consequences from the company.)
“This stuff is not as advertised,” Watts says in the video. “There’s a lot of flaws in the system. The consumer is being hoodwinked. The farmer’s being jerked around.”
Because I write so much about antibiotic use on farming, it is important to say that Watts’ farm is not, now, an antibiotics-using farm, though it was in the past. (As I covered earlier, almost all of Perdue went antibiotic-free last summer.) What he represents, instead, is a conviction among people examining livestock raising that removing antibiotics from meat production is not enough. After that is accomplished, animal welfare, and the economic conditions that farmers are forced to live under, need attention as well. (For more on those issues: The ASPCA began a campaign on broiler welfare, “The Truth About Chicken,” a year ago, and the Pew Charitable Trusts have released two reports on the broiler industry, here on environmental damage and here on economic unfairness.)
One of the key points of the video is that Watts’s chicken is sold under a USDA program called “Process Verified,” in which the agency says it confirms that broilers are raised to a number of standards, including “humanely” — which, from the conditions in the video, seems untrue. It slots into work that Garces and Compassion were already doing with the Better Chicken initiative, which challenges supermarkets to buy only chicken that is humanely raised.
In October, Perdue agreed as part of the settlement of a suit brought by the Humane Society of the United States that it would no longer use the “humane” claim on one specific label. In a statement, Compassion said that is not enough:
Americans think they are buying chickens raised in idyllic pasture when the meat is labeled “natural”. But what they are actually buying are chickens raised on a bed of feces-filled litter that hasn’t been change for years. They are buying chickens bred to get so big, so fast they can’t stand on their own two feet. They are buying chickens raised in dimly lit warehouses, who never see the light of day except when coming from the hatchery or heading to slaughter. With an image of green pastures in their mind, shoppers are picking up a package of chicken from a factory farm.
Garces and Watts plan to continue working together to highlight the need for humane practices. I asked how how she felt about partnering with someone who, until now, represents everything she had worked against. Here’s what she told me:
The first time I drove to meet Craig in late spring, I was the most nervous I’ve even been in my whole life. Filmmaker Raegan Hodge was with me, and we discussed most of the 5 hour drive what we would do if we were presented with an ambush. In my head, it was entirely possible that a bunch of chicken farmers with pitchforks were waiting for us.
But here’s when I knew Craig was the real deal. From the very first time he let me into the first chicken warehouse, he referred, to the birds as “he” or “she,” and never, not once, as “it.” He sees them as the individuals they are. This is when I knew I had found a kindred spirit.
We are about as unlikely of partners as they come. But I can tell you I’ve never met anyone so serious about, and so capable of, making this industry a fairer and more humane one.
After Going Public, Perdue Farmer Faces Disciplinary Action
Perdue Farms launched an audit of one of its chicken farmers Wednesday, just hours after he voiced public concerns about the welfare of the company’s animals.
Farmer Craig Watts took the unusual step recently of allowing a film crew to tour his industrial chicken farm in rural North Carolina, where he raises birds under contract for Perdue. Watts also gave an on-the-record interview to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, in which Watts said that Perdue’s claim that it treats animals humanely “couldn’t get any further from the truth.”
Just hours after Kristof’s column was published Wednesday, Perdue employees arrived at Watts’ farm and informed him that he was the subject on an internal animal welfare audit. If he fails the audit, the company could cancel his contract and effectively put him out of business.
Watts said the audit appears to be direct retaliation for speaking out.
“I just didn’t expect it this quick,” Watts said. “That’s a potential contract-yanker.”
Perdue spokeswoman Julie DeYoung said today the audit was not retaliation for Watts’ public comments, but that it was related to the video that was shot on his farm.
The video was released in tandem with Kristof’s article by an activist group called Compassion in World Farming, which seeks better treatment for industrial livestock. The film captured images of birds panting because they were overheated, birds with bellies that were reddened and de-feathered from sitting too long on a bed of chicken litter, and a bird with deformed or broken leg hobbling around the chicken house.
“What we saw on the video was very concerning, suggesting to us that the birds were not well taken care of,” DeYoung said. “So it’s very appropriate for us to go and see for ourselves what is going on.”
Watts and Perdue seem to disagree on who bears responsibility for the disturbing condition of the chickens. Watts claims that the birds’ reddened bellies and panting are natural symptoms of Perdue’s business plan to cram as many animals as possible into each barn. Perdue claims that Watts is to blame because he isn’t tending the animals well enough. If he could cool the chicken house by using large fans, for example, the birds would stop panting, DeYoung said.
The disagreement highlights the fraught relationship between modern contract farmers and the nation’s biggest meat companies. Farmers like Watts borrow millions of dollars to build large factory farms, but they never actually own the birds they raise. Instead, they sign a contract with companies like Perdue, which deliver the live birds and pay the farmer to raise them. The companies also deliver chicken feed and send veterinarians by the farm to check on the birds and administer drugs if needed.
Farmers like Watts have little freedom in choosing how to raise their chickens, and they have no control over the kind of bird that is delivered to their farm. Chicken farmers live in perpetual fear that companies will cancel their contracts, so they rarely speak with reporters.
DeYoung said she doesn’t know the results of Wednesday’s audit. If a farmer fails the audit, the company can prescribe corrective steps, or it can take disciplinary action including cancelling the farmer’s contract.
Watts said he doesn’t regret speaking out. He has been raising birds for Perdue since the early 1990s, and has become fed up with a relationship that he characterizes as exploitative.
“Everybody’s got a tipping point. And I am just there,” he said.