CALAMITY HOWLER/A.V. Krebs
Bill Lehman: 'Concerned Citizen' RIP
One of agriculture's unsung heroes, Bill Lehman, 60, died of a severe heart
condition March 2 at a Shelby, Montana. care center.
Lehman, was a retired USDA meat inspector and from 1987 to 1996 he worked
as a border meat inspector in the Sweetgrass, Montana, station, the busiest
port of entry for beef from Canada. Tireless in his efforts for more strict
meat inspection regulation Lehman, who believed it was his duty to do whatever
he could to ensure the safety of food being imported for American consumers,
was outspoken in criticizing this country's inspection standards.
Branded as a troublemaker, a loose cannon and a protectionist by many of
his own USDA colleagues, others saw him as a hero, patriot and whistle blower;
he much preferred to be thought of as a "concerned citizen."
By his own estimate he had himself rejected "up to 2.3 million pounds
of contaminated or mislabeled imports annually. The reasons for rejection
included pus-filled abscesses, sticky layers of bacteria leaving a stench,
obvious fecal contamination, stains, metal shavings, blood, bruises, hair,
hide, chemical residues, salmonella, added substances and advanced disease
Lehman was severely critical of inspection procedures resulting from the
U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement which was approved in 1989. "Suddenly,
Canadian meat imports became almost exempt from inspections," he recalled.
Shortly after the children's deaths and sickness from e-coli tainted hamburger
in the Pacific Northwest Lehman testified before a congressional committee
and detailed a typical inspection under the infamous "rear-door rule."
"I merely walk to the back of the truck. That's all I'm allowed to
do. Whether there's boxed meat or carcasses in the truck, I can't touch
the boxes. I can't open the boxes. I can't use a flashlight. I can't walk
into the truck. I can only look at what is visible in the back of the trailer."
He also recounted during an interview while he was on the job that two trucks
had just passed through the Sweetgrass facility and that he had inspected
them both within 45 seconds.
"I've just inspected over 80,000 pounds of meat (boxed beef rounds
and boxed boneless beef briskets) on two trucks. I wasn't running or hurrying
either. One was bound for Sante Fe Springs, California, the other for San
Jose, California. I just stamped on their paperwork 'USDA Inspected and
Passed' in 45 seconds."
Because of his outspokenness Lehman was ordered to transfer to another location,
retire or be terminated from his job as a meat inspector. He subsequently
retired, after 30 years of service in the USDA, in early 1997, stating he
was "just tired of the whole thing."
In his obituary, however, his family of a wife, Shirley, two sons, a daughter
and three grand children, noted that Lehman "even when forced into
retirement by the USDA for challenging their program deficiencies, he refused
to give up and had a case pending at the time of his death."
Shootout Time at Ol' Glickman Corral
Responding to pressure from the nation's independent cattlemen and public
interest demands that the USDA move to end manipulation of cattle prices
by corporate giants like IBP Inc and curb poultry processing companies from
shortchanging their contract growers, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman
has announced that his department has begun reorganizing the agency that
enforces agriculture's antitrust law -- the 1921 Packers and Stockyards
In recent years three companies have come to dominate the meat packing industry:
IBP (38 percent); Excel, a subsidiary of the Cargill Corp. (22 percent);
and ConAgra, the nation's second largest food manufacturer (21 percent).
Together they control some 81 percent of the meat packing industry.
"We can't let three or four very large companies run roughshod over
family farmers," Glickman recently told a meeting of several lawmakers
from Midwestern states.
At the present time the USDA is considering new rule-making power based
on proposals submitted to it by the Western Organization of Resource Councils
(WORC) which would 1) disallow formula or basis pricing on forward contracted
slaughter cattle; 2) require that forward contracts be offered in an open,
public manner, and 3) require that packer-fed cattle be sold on an open,
"Captive supplies," "formula pricing," and "forward
contracting" are ways packers control inventories. Independent cattle
feeders complain that those forms force cattle prices lower while they increase
packer and distribution profits. Captive supplies and formula pricing is
where packers who feed their own cattle also forward contract for cattle
at a set or formula price rather than buying their supplies of fed cattle
in a competitive, public bidding system.
Thus, beef packing companies can take such cattle without ever bidding in
open markets, such as livestock sale barns. By keeping their packing plants
full for days and weeks at a time with such "captive supplies"
or foreign imports such as from Canada, they can easily force open market
prices (or "cash" market prices) down by simply not buying for
Currently, with the huge numbers of cattle that are fed by the major meatpackers
plus non-negotiated formula cattle, there is little interest left in their
competing in the cash market. An independent analysis published recently
by Les Messinger, market analyst for Barnes Brokerage in Chicago, shows
conservatively, that the cattle producer has lost $220 per head since the
growth in captive supplies (March, 1994) and the loss of competition among
the big three packers, IBP, Cargill and ConAgra.
Contrary to previous positions Glickman said he now favors mandatory reporting
once a week of all cattle prices, including spot-market transactions and
contract purchases. Department officials no longer see packers' infrequent
voluntary reporting as adequate. Mandatory reporting would require congressional
Meanwhile, the American Meat Institute, which representing the major meatpackers,
has disputed allegations of unfair practices and price manipulation. "This
issue has been looked at repeatedly," Sara Lilygren, the group's chief
spokeswoman, told the Wall Street Journal. "They've never found
anything wrong." Meatpackers, she added, will oppose any rule requiring
them to make public the terms of their private contracts with cattle producers.
Regarding the poultry industry, Secretary Glickman has vowed to carefully
examine address the long-standing contract disputes between poultry companies
and their growers that continue to plague the Broiler Belt from Delaware
The USDA will propose new requirements that companies accurately weigh the
feed they supply to their thousands of producers. Feed costs figure significantly
in the calculation of grower payments. For many years, contract growers
have complained about being shorted on the feed due them or overcharged.
The rule proposal would also cover contracts between hog producers and packers.
Things Go Better With Coke OR ELSE
"The school door has been thrown open to marketers," is the way
Marianne Manilov of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education aptly
described the recent controversy surrounding "Coke Day" at Greenbrier
High School in Evans, Ga., and student Mike Cameron, a 19-year-old senior,
who was suspended for a day for wearing a Pepsi shirt at a Coke Day rally
at his school."From where we sit this is out of hand," she said.
Cameron, relates how he had worn his Pepsi shirt all day but didn't get
in trouble until it was time for the picture. "I was standing in the
middle of the 'C' with my arm around my girlfriend," he told Washington
Post reporter Frank Swoboda. The photographer was above the group on
a "cherry picker" for an aerial shot.
According to Cameron's principal, Gloria Hamilton, who suspended the student
for a day, he was wearing another shirt until the picture-taking, then whipped
it off to expose the Pepsi shirt underneath. The principal called Cameron's
actions a disruptive prank and said she would hand down the same punishment
if she had a chance to do it again. A second student also received a one-day
suspension for wearing a Pepsi shirt, she said; however, she would not identify
the student, who served the suspension in school, separated from classmates.
"Coke Day" was conceived by the Georgia high school's student
government as part of an entry into a national "Team Up With Coca-Cola"
contest that earns $10,000 for the winning school. Coca-Cola Co. invites
high schools throughout the country, except those that have exclusive contracts
with PepsiCo Inc., to come up with a plan for distributing Coke discount
All four high schools in Columbia County competed, but "Greenbrier
elected to go big time," said Tom Dorhmann, superintendent of the Columbia
County Board of Education. That included the rally, in which the students,
who were encouraged to dress in Coke's red and white, lined up to spell
out the word "COKE" while more than a dozen of the company's executives
from Coke's nearby corporate headquarters in Atlanta looked on.
Teenagers: Running Free in the Supermarket
A March 14 article by the New York Times' Molly O'Neill spells out
how teenagers, market researchers say, are helping reshape the way America
eats, playing a big role in the array of ready-made meals now offered in
supermarkets, from pasta to pizza to sweet-and-sour chicken, as well as
the rise of nutrition bars. They like to snack, too, the "louder"
(read: spicier) the better.
While mothers, she reports, still make most grocery decisions, food ads
in magazines aimed at teenagers have markedly increased in the last five
years, and food companies have established "edutainment" sites
on the youth-savvy Web.
The Rand Youth Poll, which surveys about 2,700 teenagers twice a year has
estimated that teenagers spent $48.8 billion in grocery stores in 1997,
more than 10 percent of total grocery-industry sales. Half the teenagers
surveyed by Teen-Age Research Unlimited in Northbrook, Ill., said they went
to a grocery store at least once a week, and 61 percent "prepare a
meal" for themselves weekly. Most buy their own breakfast and lunch
Based on a 1997 study by the Food Marketing Institute, 29 percent of the
people who bought prepared meals at supermarkets were 18 to 24 years old,
compared with 16 percent in 1996. The only other age group that was larger
were shoppers 65 and older, at 32 percent last year, up from 25 percent.
"To many teenagers, `homemade' has come to mean nothing more than 'home
heated.'" Marian Salzman, director of brand futures at Young &
Rubicam Advertising, predicts that the subtle linguistic shift might well
carry right into adulthood. And major food makers are on notice.
Foods aimed at teenagers are also constantly being fine-tuned to appeal
to younger tastes, according to Rory Delaney, chief food scientist at Frito-Lay.
Delaney said that a generation raised on processed foods has more tolerance
of spicy flavors.
"We steadily increase the amount of seasoning in our products,"
he said. "Teens want what they call 'loud' taste. They want saltier,
spicier, cheesier. The level of spice we sell now wouldn't have worked 30
years ago, and from what I've seen, the flavors will keep getting louder
and louder as this generation comes of age."
Hunger, U.S.A., Revisited
Four months after the last of $27 billion in food-stamp cuts took effect,
there is mounting evidence that the number of people who can't get enough
to eat without help is rapidly increasing. Many charity leaders and experts
on hunger believe that the cuts are at least partly to blame.
"The economy is booming by most standards we use to measure it, and
yet we're saying our demand is up," says Sister Christine Vladimiroff,
a Benedictine nun who runs Chicago-based Second Harvest, the nation's largest
charity to getting food to the poor. "People come to us because their
cupboards are bare," Sister Vladimiroff said. "We don't want to
have to say, 'Well, ours are, too'."
A recent U.S. Conference of Mayors survey reports that there were average
1997 increases of 16 percent in requests for emergency food -- the largest
jump in the 29-city survey since 1992. In addition, the study found that
19 percent of those seeking help were turned away, and 46 percent of the
cities reported that charities and other private programs provided inadequate
amounts of food to those helped. Forty-four percent of city officials cited
cuts in the food-stamp program as a chief cause of the problem.
But many hunger workers, according to the Associated Press, said the blame
cannot be placed solely on the changes in the food-stamp program, which
reduced the stamps' value, limited to three months the eligibility of able-bodied,
childless adults and denied benefits to most legal immigrants. Other, perhaps
larger, factors include unemployment and low-paying jobs.
Second Harvest supplies through a network of food banks more than a billion
pounds of food a year to soup kitchens, battered women's shelters, meals-on-wheels
programs for the elderly and other services for the poor and homeless. In
an informal survey, Second Harvest found it took an average of 14 percent
more food to feed the hungry in November, 1997 than it did the previous
Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have received waivers for
the cutoff of childless adults in areas of high unemployment.
A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project,
P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201. See his website on the Internet
News | Current Issue
| Back Issues | Essays
About the Progressive Populist | How
to Subscribe | How to Contact Us
Copyright © 1998 The Progressive Populist