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'If they wanted quality, they'd pay for it,' cattleman says

by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor

(June 20, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- It's "all about improving the overall quality of beef for consumers." That's what Bill Buckner, president of Excel Corporation, a Cargill subsidiary, told www.meatingplace.com last week (June 12) about his company's plans to raise cattle with more tender meat.

Not everyone is convinced this would benefit consumers or family farmers and ranchers. They see it instead as a bid for more control and corporate concentration.

The plan is for Excel's beef packing division and Caprock Cattle Feeders, also a Cargill subsidiary, to enter a $10 million partnership with MetaMorphix, Inc., holder of the patent on the cattle genome, to develop cattle with the desired traits. Caprock will supply a cross section of cattle for that purpose.

This will be a "ground breaking step forward for consumers and the beef industry," the CEO of MetaMorphix told meatingplace.com.

But Mike Callicrate doesn't buy it.

"Cargill is looking at Monsanto's patenting of crop genes and wanting to do the same with beef," says Callicrate, a Kansas cattleman. "It's an attempt to control beef from pasture to the plate."

The fact that IBP, ConAgra, Cargill and Farm Land National control more than 80 percent of the U.S. steer and heifer slaughter amounts to monopoly, he says. This partnership will further reduce family ranchers and farmers to contract laborers on their own land, much like the poultry industry.

"They're [Cargill] not happy with controlling just the marketplace. They also want to control the genetics and the supply. If they really wanted quality, they'd pay [farmers] a fair price for it," says Callicrate adding that the industry is now buying beef from Australian producers at below the cost of production, which eventually will drive them out of business.

A better way to produce tender, high quality beef would be to raise free range, grass-fed cattle that aren't transported thousands of miles, he says.

Wes Sims, president of the Texas Farmers Union, agrees with the Kansan's assessment of the Cargill-MetaMorphix partnership.

"Where's the money," Sims asks. "They don't do anything without more profit for themselves."

Cargill processes, markets and distributes agricultural, food, financial and industrial products internationally. Caprock Cattle Feeders operates four Kansas and Texas feedlots with 600,000 head of cattle annually.

Source: http://www.meatingplace.com