• Many people do not know how their hamburgers are actually made, so in 2011, Cargill opens the doors of its beef processing plant to a North American television audience.
  • Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, the plant’s general manager, guides TV reporter Lisa Ling through a tour of the facility, showing how beef is processed from start to finish.

Telling the true story of Cargill beef

Welcoming The Oprah Winfrey Show into its beef facility in Colorado, Cargill demonstrates a commitment to quality and transparency.

“In a world where nothing can be hidden, we better have nothing to hide,” said Cargill’s CEO Greg Page in a 2014 interview. He was referring to Cargill’s commitment to transparency throughout its supply chain operations. This was particularly relevant in the company’s beef processing plants, where the business of raising and harvesting beef can seem mysterious. Trucks haul cattle into meat processing plants and then carry packaged meat out, but the public sees virtually nothing of what goes on inside. That lack of visibility, combined with people’s ever-increasing desire for more and better information about what goes into the food they eat, leads to questions, speculation and sometimes myths.

In August 2010, Cargill hosted Mike Hughlett, a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter, and photographer Glen Stubbe at a feedlot in Colorado operated by Timmerman & Sons Feeding Co. Cargill also gave them a tour of its beef processing plant in the nearby town of Fort Morgan. Three days after Hughlett’s article on Cargill’s beef processing appeared in print, Cargill received a call from an associate producer at Harpo Productions, the parent company of The Oprah Winfrey Show. The producer had read the article, was impressed and wanted to broadcast a similar story.

In January 2011, Cargill offered an unprecedented behind-the-scenes view of its beef operations to Oprah viewers—the biggest consumer audience on North American daytime television.

Cargill welcomed Lisa Ling, veteran broadcast journalist and correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show, and her camera crew into its state-of-the-art beef processing facility in Fort Morgan, Colorado. Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, the plant’s general manager, led Ling on a guided tour through every step of the manufacturing process: from feedlot to harvest floor to final packaging and shipping. Johnson-Hoffman answered the reporter’s questions candidly, discussing animal welfare, plant processes and food safety, always emphasizing Cargill employees’ dedication to care and quality.

“We believe it is important for people to see the care that we take to ensure the animals are treated humanely,” Johnson-Hoffman explained. “Informing people about what we do, as well as how we do it, is becoming increasingly important for our success.”

The six-and-a-half-minute film of the tour aired on The Oprah Winfrey Show during a round-table discussion between Johnson-Hoffman, Winfrey and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. When Pollan spoke in opposition to meat industry practices, Johnson-Hoffman explained Cargill’s work, emphasizing the importance of providing safe, humanely produced foods for all types of diets.

“I have spent over ten years working in our meat business, and I am very proud of what we do, and of our people. I wanted to represent that to others.” — Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, General Manager, Cargill Beef

More than 7.3 million households in the United States tuned in to watch the episode debut on February 1, 2011. Company leaders still point to the television program as an example of the transparency Cargill strives to maintain with the public. What’s more, it serves as a benchmark of industry excellence, by which other beef processing companies measure the quality of their own operations.