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PRIME CUTS – for Oct. 5, 2009

A North American view of the meat industry. Steve Kay is publisher and editor of Cattle Buyers Weekly

Corporate responsibility, sustainability, environmental impact and carbon footprint were scarcely mentioned 20 years ago. Now they’re redefining the meat and livestock industry

The U.S. beef cattle industry has conjured up many macho images in its history. Think “The Marlboro Man” or John Wayne. Yet it has also been notable for having women in its leadership ranks. This is in part a reflection of cattle ranching, where husband and wife are often business partners. Women have played a key role through state beef councils in connecting the industry with consumers. Some of the industry’s finest leaders in recent years included women.

The packing industry in contrast has been male dominated for much of its history. I hesitate to conjecture the reasons but the “bloody” business of killing and cutting up animals might have had something to do with it. Only a handful of women have ascended to top positions. One of the most notable is Rosemary Mucklow. She has spent the past 48 years in the industry, most recently as head of the National Meat Association (NMA), and is widely respected throughout the industry and the federal government.

It was fitting then that NMA offered Jody Horner her first opportunity to address an industry meeting since she became president of Cargill Meat Solutions in February. Horner had no meat industry background. But she is a 25-year Cargill veteran who has worked in grain trading and flour milling, in corporate strategy, in financial trading and in human resources. Her last job was president of Cargill Salt. As Horner told NMA, “this may seem to be a bit of a strange career path but at Cargill it isn’t at all unique. We like to move people around, give new talent new opportunities and give people big challenges and give them the support they need to be successful.”

Given Cargill’s history, the way it moves its people around appears to contribute significantly to its success. It had its second-best year last year, despite the global recession, racking up $3.33 billion in net income from $116.6 billion in revenues. Other companies, and the beef industry, could take a leaf out of Cargill’s book and look for more Jody Horners.

Horner’s message to NMA was timely, given the drumbeat of negative media stories about U.S. agriculture and the meat industry. Corporate responsibility should be core to everything a company does, and telling the world the great stories the industry has is also very important, she said. Horner also believes meat processors have to be open to dialogue with those who are industry detractors. They have to be willing to work with people who want to solve problems but who at times don’t see the world the way processors do. Horner cited how Cargill works with Greenpeace in Europe and Brazil. She cited what Cargill has achieved in the U.S. in environmental and energy innovation.

Horner also recounted a meeting she and Cargill Beef president John Keating had with a major retail customer. They did a traditional business review and ended the meeting talking about corporate responsibility. They mentioned that 30 per cent of the beef Cargill sells the retailer is produced on renewable energy. He said he was really surprised they hadn’t talked about this already and that they hadn’t offered this as a brand attribute for his meat case. They then talked about 50 per cent of Cargill’s contract hog farms no longer using gestation crates. The retailer asked why Cargill wasn’t bidding for his pork business. The point is that corporate responsibility is also good for business, she said.

Horner’s story is a reminder how consumers and retailers are forcing changes in the way we raise animals and produce meat. Topics such as corporate responsibility, sustainability, environmental impact and carbon footprint were scarcely mentioned 20 years ago. Now they are increasingly redefining the meat and livestock industry.

Cattle Buyers Weekly covers the North American meat and livestock industry. For subscription information, contact Steve Kay at P. O. Box 2533, Petaluma, CA 94953, or at 707-765-1725, or go towww.cattlebuyersweekly.com.

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A North American view of the meat industry. Steve Kay is publisher and editor of Cattle Buyers Weekly.

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