Note: This article was written for CorpWatch, and also appears on their website.
Earlier this summer in Minnesota, the well-dressed woman walked briskly across the front of the red brick classroom and up to the microphone. The moderator smiled and nodded in her direction. Looking down at her notes, she began. "Good afternoon. Thanks for holding this session. And while we are here in this room discussing this important issue, 200 people in Gering, Nebraska, are looking for new jobs. Their packing plant closed this week because they could not source enough cattle due to the embargo."
The AMI's Janet Riley, with black wristband
Janet Riley, the senior vice-president of public affairs for the American Meat Institute (AMI), was referring to a plant owned by Packerland Packing, a subsidiary of Wisconsin-based Smithfield. The Gering plant processed roughly 320 cattle a day, turning the cows into boxed beef products. But following the May 2003 discovery of mad cow disease across the border in Alberta, a legal challenge by Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (a small Montana-based advocacy group) caused the United States to impose a ban on Canadian cattle imports, effectively cutting off supplies to the Nebraska plant.
Speaking more slowly, Riley stressed: "Gering is not the first plant, and it won't be the last." She continued, "And that's why I and so many others in this room" - here she lifted one arm over her head and pumped it in the air defiantly - "are wearing these black wristbands, because they are the color of mourning. ... And that's exactly how we feel about our industry. What's happening is tragic."