If Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Drew Edmondson, were a rodeo cowboy you could say that on Monday, October 20, 2008 he drew a real rank bull. Oklahoma along with 12 other states and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit to block JBS, a Brazilian company, from buying National Beef, Inc. the fourth largest U.S. beef packer. JBS, the largest meat packer in the world, bought Swift, the number three U.S. packer in 2007. The purchase of National Beef would make JBS the largest U.S. packer, bigger than Tyson and Cargill. The three companies would control more than 85% of the U.S. beef market, with JBS controling 35%, Tyson 25 – 30% and Cargill 20-25%. In a manner of speaking, Edmondson and the other A.G.’s from cowboy states are attempting to tame the biggest baddest bull on the planet. In keeping with the courage of lengendary Oklahoma bull riders like Jim Shoulders and Lane Frost, it is time for Drew to cowboy up!
Drew is no stranger to multinational meat packers. For many years Edmondson has been telling Tyson and other big chicken companies to clean up their act. They have placed millions of chickens and mountains of chicken manure in the watersheds of scenic rivers in eastern Oklahoma. Of course, all such waste flows downhill, and the rivers and lakes of eastern Oklahoma have served as an industrial sewer. Edmondson has sued big chicken and expects them to pay for damage done.
Oklahoma farmers who raise chickens for Tyson have cursed Edmondson long and hard for suing the big chicken companies. These farmers depend on the companies for their livelihoods, and when the companies tell the chicken farmers to complain about the AG — they complain. They have no choice. The few companies that constitute “big chicken” have extraordinary power and their production capability stretches around the globe from the United States to Brazil to China. This coerced opposition has not stopped Drew Edmondson.
Now Edmondson has signed up to take on big beef as well as big chicken. He will face the same type of coerced opposition. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), which began as a cattlemen’s organization has been co-opted by the packers. The owners of cattle feedlots in Oklahoma are dependent upon packers for their financial survival. No doubt you will hear them say that Edmondson is interfering.
Opposition will come from owners of National Beef which includes many cattlemen. National Beef began as a cattlemen owned business. With the sale to JBS these investors hoped to cash out before they were crushed by the market power of JBS, Tyson and Cargill. The lawsuit now jeopardizes their exit strategy.
Opposition will come from land grant universities. While land grant universities were formed to provide useful information to working folks like farmers and ranchers, these institutions have been influenced by the dominance of big chicken and big beef. Their institutional focus is on efforts that help the big to become bigger. As a result, active and retired professors from the state’s land grant university are testifying and consulting for big chicken companies against the State of Oklahoma. With regard to the JBS acquisition, while cattlemen were asking for help, land grant university professors did not counsel the attorney general to protect ranchers against the monopoly type power of the packers. It remains to be seen whether or not they will actually oppose protection of the cattlemen.
The ride that awaits the lawyers for the DOJ and 13 state attorneys general will be rough, and it will have to last more than 8 seconds. Perhaps they can benefit from the words of encouragement offered by the rough, strong and doggedly independent cowboys they are protecting — cowboy up!