John Tyson is Against
Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL)
Industry Leader With Very Direct Views
ROGER BERNARD / AgWeb 4dec02
The nation's largest meat producer.
"Country of origin Labeling truly puzzles me, but I don't see the wisdom of penalizing U.S. retailers or food processors that choose to import certain food products and offer them for sale to U.S. consumers." - John Tyson
Labelling also works against the US meat industry when they want to want to import meats from places like Norway or Russia. Because of the meltdown of Chernobyl and many other nuclear disasters, it is extremely unhealthy to eat any meat from places affected by the fallout from Chernobyl. There is NO safe dose of radiation. Repeat...NO safe dose of radiation, no matter what our government tells us. Finally, the reason why we can't believe the government should be fairly obvious at this point time. It is because the terms Government and Industry are interchangeable and almost indistinguishable. None of this will change until political campaign contributions are made illegal and elections are strictly financed through taxes.
That's a tall reputation to live up to. And John Tyson, chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods, Inc., provided the 7th Annual Farm Journal Forum with a picture of how the firm started to where it has moved today. His observations were no-nonsense and very direct at times, providing an interesting insight on how he views the world relative to agriculture.
Mainstream media does not cover agriculture, Tyson observed, noting that if one read major publications you wouldn't have "any idea there is a single farmer left working in America."
Tyson went through some of the origins of what is now a major corporation, observing that his grandfather started out by selling chickens back in the 1930s. Without refrigeration that is available today, Tyson's grandfather came to the conclusion that one would have to transport chickens live to their destination. And from there, the business has never turned back.
Tyson said his drive now is "one of constantly searching out new markets," Tyson said. American farmers now "realize that there are untapped markets outside the United States." Tyson Foods last year exported $3.1 billion in beef, chicken and pork products.
"Foreign markets allow us to sell other products that we might not be able to sell here at home," Tyson pointed out. He cited the "Bush Legs" (chicken hindquarters) to Russia, beef livers to Russia and chicken "paws" are all examples of products that have become strong sellers in overseas markets.
How big has Tyson become?
They are now the leading supplier of protein to the U.S. market, accounting for 27% of U.S. beef sales, 23% of chicken and 19% of pork, Tyson said. For exports, Tyson tallies up 29% of beef, 30% of chicken and 20% of pork, he detailed.
Trade and its impacts are "not just the story of Tyson Foods," Tyson stressed. But that trade front is not easy. He detailed that there have been more interruptions to trade in the last 12 months than there has been in the last 10 years combined.
He cited barriers or trade interruptions in Japanese and Russian markets as two key developments the past year that have hurt U.S. ag trade. The erection of non-tariff trade barriers is troubling, Tyson said. "Russia's list of demands go far beyond standards for their industry," he noted. The resulting buildup of supplies in the U.S. market from the Russian actions to halt imports of U.S. poultry pushed down prices for chicken, but also for beef and pork.
"We were hurt by the depressed prices and results here at home," Tyson commented.
"We remain optimistic that our government is going to enforce trade rules," he continued, but typically by the time trade spats are resolved, "the damage has been done."
He also noted that the European Union (EU) ban on imports of beef with growth hormones, began in the 1980s, still hasn't been resolved. When things like this happen, Tyson said "our customers are thrust into the wanting and waiting arms of our competitors. Once you lose market share, it's difficult to regain."
What can be done?
"First, stay active and stay in the game," Tyson implored. American agriculture "has made its voice heard, but even when we get tired and hoarse, we have to stay active."
"We need to convey the simple message that trade barriers have an impact on all of us... producers and processors alike," Tyson said.
But he warned that erecting barriers here in the U.S. won't solve the problem. Tyson borrowed an old phrase to make his point: "Two wrongs don't make a right."
Tyson also came out strongly against the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) provisions contained in the new farm bill. He termed the USDA estimate of a $2 billion cost in the first year as likely being a conservative figure.
"Country of origin Labeling truly puzzles me," Tyson said. He indicated he could understand the desire for promoting domestically produced livestock. "But I don't see the wisdom of penalizing U.S. retailers or food processors that choose to import certain food products and offer them for sale to U.S. consumers."
An interesting note, Tyson observed that cattle born this winter and spring will be the first crop that will be needing the documentation under the COOL rules. If producers can't put together the needed information, that could well mean that their livestock will not be salable, Tyson stressed.
COOL is "something must be revisited and discussed again," Tyson urged.
Challenged later on his COOL views, Tyson said, "my thoughts are based on our studies, and that the systems and mechanisms are not in place to start traceability." The cost of the program and the problems that it will create for producers "will cause more disruptions until we thoughtfully work out the traceability issues."
As for food safety, Tyson said that the U.S. food supply has "never been safer." He said food safety critics make it sound like "every dinner cooked in America is a deadly weapon. That's no help to artificial trade barriers" created by some countries.
"Attacking those who make the food is not going to solve the problem," Tyson warned. "If you drive it offshore, your food won't be any safer."
And, he noted that there needs to be a balanced discussion on the environment. "We need to protect the environment," he said, but pointed out that production of livestock still hasn't been made possible without the production of manure or chicken litter.
Asked later about whether the use of manure could answer some of the problems relative to the use chemical fertilizers, Tyson said that was possible. But he stressed that the right discussion and dialogue is needed "and not emotion." That's the only way to find "the right answers," he stressed.
Returning to trade, Tyson said that the U.S. needs to keep "opening new markets and keeping existing ones open." "The market is no longer local as my grandfather found it, national as my father found it," Tyson said, "but it is global as I find it."
Tyson's role as the largest meat producer in the country means they buy 300 million bushels of corn and 3 million tons of soymeal each year. The total purchases by Tyson equals the production of 6 million acres of cropland.
Tyson also pointed out some of the humanitarian efforts that the company undertakes, such as giving food to food banks and feeding efforts. Plus, employees actively gather money for the United Way.
On food safety, Tyson said that "people would like for the food industry to be perfect today. It's progression, not perfection." The U.S. industry is making progress, Tyson said, but admitted that he didn't think "we will ever attain perfection."
"The world is demanding perfection and we have to work on progress every day," Tyson said.
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