beef

by Paul SchwennesenI squandered a beautiful Colorado morning in CSU's ballroom yesterday.  Around 2,000 of us were there to provide first-hand testimony to Attorney General Holder and USDA Secretary Vilsack about the growing concerns over consolidation in the meat-packing industry.While most of us were wearing hats, I noticed an awful lot of them were in hands, not on heads.  Appealing for help to the 'Suits on the Podium,' about a third of the audience was unashamedly suggesting that the Government come in and rescue the small family rancher.Look, I'm as concerned about the demise of a way of life as the next man.  I'm as disgusted with the decrease in cattle prices as anyone else.  I too wish ranchers could make the same returns as thirty years ago.  I don't like that 80% of the meat-packing industry is in the hands of four conglomerates.  But where I part ways with some of the crowd is in my view of the solutions to these issues.Asking government to break the back of "Big Meat" is like asking your hangman to pull the next guy's lever first.There seems to be an increasingly prevalent view that "something is going on" in the cattle market, that "Big Meat" is brandishing unfair market leverage which screws the little guy.  And don't get me wrong:  I'd be the first to rally if a Federal probe unearthed findings that Cargill, Tyson, National or JBS was engaged in price-fixing, collusion, or fraud.  But I'm afraid that after 6 hours of public testimony, I got no inkling of such manipulations.  What I got was an inkling that some of us would rather see higher prices for our cattle (no kidding?), that ranchers get  a "fair shake" (whatever that means), and that the big guys open their books to their private transactions to let the rest of us see what's going on.  These might sound good, but will they really solve the problem?