Cattlemen who met recently in La Junta remain fiercely opposed to the formation of a multi-stakeholder group aimed at creating a verification system that will demonstrate beef's environmental sustainability.

Cattlemen who met recently in La Junta remain fiercely opposed to the formation of a multi-stakeholder group aimed at creating a verification system that will demonstrate beef’s environmental sustainability.

“If we were environmentally non-sustainable, my family’s ranch wouldn’t be coming up on its 100th year,” said Wil Bledsoe, of Hugo, when asked about it. “You have to put the environment first in order to be economically sustainable in the long run.”

Bledsoe is president of the Colorado Independent Cattlegrowers Association, which held its 10th annual convention recently in La Junta. The group opposes the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and wants to see it disbanded.

During the group’s meeting, Tracy Hunt, a county commissioner and attorney from Newcastle, Wyoming, compared the roundtable by turns to the mafia, a socialist system and to corporate collusion. He said it would lead to top-down control resembling vertical integration in the poultry industry. “When they say they are doing this through collaboration, they mean collusion,” he said.

He urged around 100 ranchers in attendance not to comply with any future verification efforts. He criticized the players involved, saying Bryan Weech, a former executive with the World Wildlife Fund, incorporated the roundtable and many multinational corporations, including JBS, Wal-Mart and McDonalds, were providing input.

Bledsoe said the roundtable’s level of corporate involvement concerned him. “Personally I think a roundtable is a great concept if you can get some things ironed out that way. But in this case, the deck is stacked,” he said. “Instead, let’s just have the people in it who have skin in the game. The retailers shouldn’t be telling us what sustainability looks like on our ranches.”

Bledsoe said it appeared to him the roundtable’s ultimate goal was “to sell a product at a higher value” rather than to benefit producers or consumers. “If they were truly concerned about the interests of consumers, they would provide country-of-origin labeling and take other steps to tell the consumer the whole story about their food,” he said.

One of the meeting’s sponsors, Libby Fraser, a Kiowa veterinarian and territory manager for Zoetis, was given an opportunity to respond to why her employer had joined the roundtable.

She explained that the company’s participation was not an endorsement of any of the other parties involved but an effort to “stay ahead of people who want to tell us what to do.”

“We want to make sure we have a voice,” she said.

Gerald Schreiber, a past CICA president from Woodrow, responded that it “irked” him to be told that he needed to verify his ranching practices. “I think that’s a dangerous slope we’re getting into,” he said.

Bill Bullard, the CEO of R-CALF USA, who traveled to the meeting from Billings, Montana, said in an interview that having a seat at the table wasn’t a convincing reason to sign on.

“That is a defeatist argument, and it ignores the problem that needs be solved first,” he said. “That problem is the unprecedented concentration of our marketplace. The roundtable simply represents an effort by opportunists to take advantage of the lack of market competition we now have.”

Bullard will return to Colorado — and to the topic of market concentration — when R-CALF hosts its upcoming annual convention Aug. 14-15 at the Holiday Inn Denver East-Stapleton.