Howard Lyman Talks Ranching, McLibel and McDonald's

Howard Lyman was born in Great Falls, Montana on the 17th of September 1938. He was raised on a farm and ranch producing dairy and meat commodities.

He attended Montana State University and graduated in 1961 with a BS degree it general agriculture. Upon graduation he spent two years in the United States Army before returning to work on the parental farm.

From 1963 to 1983 he was actively engaged in animal and grain production. The areas in which he was involved were dairy, pork, registered Hereford, chicken, range cattle, feedlot beef production, veal, grain, silage, and hay production.

My responsibilities ranged from labor to total financial management. He was in charge of all buying and use decisions of all herbicides, pesticides, hormones, and medications used on the operation and at the time of liquidation he controlled over 1000 range cows and calves, 5000 head of cattle fed annually in confined feedlots and several thousands of acres of grain grown each year. This operation was expending several million dollars each year and at the maximum Howard Lyman employed over thirty employees.

Howard Lyman was interviewed in 1997 by One-Off Productions for their TV documentary, McLibel: Two Worlds Collide.

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So, could you just give us a bit of a picture of what your farm was like before?

Sure. My farm in Montana had 7000 head of cattle, er 12,000 acres of crop, 30 employees, 7 combines, 20 tractors 30 trucks and I was buying $1,000,000 worth of chemicals a year. I started out that farm which was a small, organic dairy farm, and er went to Montana State University, I got a city degree in agriculture and bought into that thing that said earn a better living through chemistry and I came home and took that information, took that small organic dairy farm built it into an agribusiness. We ended up eliminating the birds killing the trees, turned the soil into something that looked like we had imported it from Mars. I'll have to tell you that the 20 years on my farm on my chemical addiction was in my opinion totally wrong.

"We ended up eliminating the birds killing the trees, turned the soil into something that looked like we had imported it from Mars."

And what made you realise that something was wrong?

Well, the thing that really brought it to the fore-front was in 1979 when I ended up paralysed from the waist down. The doctor told me that I had a tumour on my spinal cord, it was on the inside of the cord, I had less than a one chance in a million. When somebody gives you the odds of one in a million it really gets your attention. That was right after I had to admit that we had eliminated the birds, killed the trees, my brother had died of Hodgkin's Disease, which we found caused by dioxin from the weed spray we were using 245T better known as Agent Orange in Vietnam. All of those things forced me to take a look at what I was doing when I was flat on my back fully believing that I would never walk again and I had to admit that er I had done some things to that farm that were not very good.

How did you set about changing it? What did you change it to?

Well that night, prior to the operation, the only thing that I could really think about was, "what kind of an invalid I was going to be?". Was I going to sit there and feel sorry for myself in a wheelchair or could I commit myself to doing something, something worthwhile. Not real sure of what the worthwhile thing would be. I made that commitment that night that I would do everything that I knew how to do to get that farm back to what it was when I was a kid. I thought it was probably less use of chemicals, more crop-rotation, I never had any idea in the world that it would ever have anything to do with being a vegetarian.

And how did your vegetarianism come about?

Well when I came out of the hospital, had a one in a million operation, I knew that what I had learnt at Atlanta Greater University was nothing more than brainwashing. I decided that I would go and re-educate myself. When I came out of the hospital I caught something, and for over a year I couldn't focus my eyes. That convinced me that someone up there was telling me about the commitment that I had made prior to the operation. I started reading. I started out with Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring", and went from there to Francis Moore-Lapay, Wendy Berry, Thomas Berry, Tom Reagan, Beth Jackson - and all those things made more sense to me than what I had learnt at Atlanta Greater University.

But it wasn't until I put all those things together that I came to understand it was not just crop rotation and the use of chemicals but also world hunger, animal suffering, loss of soil, rainforest. All of those things were spokes in the wheel and they all revolved around one fork and when I understood that, I understood that if we were going to make any advances in all of those issues, we had to start with the one that is most important, our diet. That's when I decided to become the world's worst vegetarian - Lettuce and dairy products. And for a year I was the world's worst vegetarian, I lost some weight, my blood pressure came down, my cholesterol came down slightly. At the end of the year I decided that if I could do that being the world's worst vegetarian, maybe what I would do is become vegan and then I thought oh my god, man cannot live on lettuce alone.

So, I thought about it and I've never met a bean I didn't like and I thought well, lettuce and beans, that's not bad, whole-wheat bread. And then it came to me that everything that you have for Thanksgiving dinner can be made without animal products - except for the turkey - and when I figured that out, I'd lost over 100 pounds, my blood pressure went to normal, my cholesterol dropped from 300 to 135 - and not one person in 40 years of the largest ongoing heart study in the world, the Framingham heart study in Massachusetts, not one person had a cholesterol reading below 150 that's had a heart attack and remember that it's the number one cause of death in the world today. And so for me, the only reason that I'm here talking to you today is because I changed my diet. If I hadn't I'm sure I would have been long dead.

"There is no doubt in my mind that diet is the thing that affects us and our health the most..."

How did your contemporary's in the agribusiness take it when you made this dramatic switch?

Well, it was an interesting thing. Many of them then, and many today, think that I am crazy. Absolutely bonkers. But you know it's an interesting thing. Ten people used to come to my house to play cards. Of those ten people I am the only vegetarian. Of those ten I am the only one who has not had a heart attack, cancer or died. And of those ten, not one has lived to be 60 years old and 40 % of them had died. There is no doubt in my mind that diet is the thing that affects us and our health the most, and even though some of my friends think I am crazy, they have to look at it that I am much healthier, that I am doing much better than they are, and everyone of them is eating less red meat than they used to.

What about from a commercial point of view? Presumably they're all being extremely profitable.

There are a lot of good things that are happening. Today in the United States, the fastest thing in the food industry right now is organic. It is growing 25% per year and has for the last 5 years. Farmers markets. There were 9,000 more farmers markets this year than there were last year. We end up with CSAs. Consumer Supported Agriculture are springing up all over the country, being subscribed to by people, working with farmers. The producer/consumer alliance is alive and well and it is growing. Every day it gets larger. Everyday more and more people get involved in their own food production, and I think that is what it's all about.

That's what has to happen. We have to eat lower on the food chain. The number of people in the world today is the largest it has ever been. There's twice as many people today as there were the day I was born. If I live to be the normal age of 75 the worlds population will quadruple in my life-time. It doubles every 40 years. We are going to have to eat much lower on the food chain if everybody on the planet is going to get an opportunity to eat.

So what specific evidence have you given in the McLibel trial?

Well, the McLibel trial is an interesting thing. This is really not McDonald's being put on trial, this is corporations being put on trial, and what I attempted to do is basically put food production of animals on trial. What we are doing. It's not what we know about what is happening out there, it's what we know that isn't so.

"Most people have no understanding at all that animals are being fed to animals, have no idea that we are feeding arsenic to chickens, that we end up recycling manure back through the animals..."

Most people have no understanding at all that animals are being fed to animals, have no idea that we are feeding arsenic to chickens, that we end up recycling manure back through the animals, that we feed them cement dust. What I attempted to do in the evidence that I gave is to give people an understanding that they could go on the internet and take a look and bring it up and take a look at it and say, "I didn't know that, I didn't know they scraped up manure and fed it back, I didn't know that they fed paper to animals, I didn't know that they fed cement to animals".

Those are things that I saw, those are things that I did and what I attempted to in the testimony I gave is put the industry on trial. Half of all the antibiotics produced in the United States today are put down the throats of animals. That's a phenomenal amount, and most of us don't know that. Most of us have no idea in the world who produced their food or what they used on it, what it will do to us, the environment or the animals. That's what I attempted to make clear in the McLibel trial.

How did it make you feel standing up there denouncing everything that you used to believe in?

It really made me feel quite good. Because I'd participated in what I believe is wrong, going down the wrong path. I followed that path because I believed that the economics justified the end. Today when I see that, I no longer believe that. When I see rainforests cut down or whether I see people sick at the doctor, in the hospital I realise that I was part of that and so what it made me feel when I was there, was that I was in some part making a payment on a debt I had incurred over the years and it made me feel like at least I was able to publily explain what I did and whether I believed that it was right or wrong. And there is no doubt in my mind today that it was wrong.

"Half of all the antibiotics produced in the United States today are put down the throats of animals. That's a phenomenal amount, and most of us don't know that. Most of us have no idea in the world who produced their food or what they used on it, what it will do to us, the environment or the animals."

What do you think apart from these specific things, what do you think the McLibel trial is really about?

I think the McLibel trial really is about, "How do people exercise their freedoms against corporations?". Most people look at it and think that this is a trial of two activists against a large multinational. That's not the case. What we're looking at, what we're talking about, is freedom, all of our freedom, and whether it can be usurped by multinational corporations. Right now we have governments that are doing the bidding of multinational corporations and they are in fact the government of the world. Can they totally intimidate individuals? Can they remove our rights and freedom? That's what this trial is all about. This is the most monumental event that will happen in my lifetime.

The trial will not be decided in the High Court, the trial will be decided in the court of public opinion. That's what it's all about and that's why it's so important that what happens there gets out to the people, that they understand what they are trying to do in the closet and it gets out there and we put the bright light of public opinion on it. It makes no difference what the judge rules. What makes the difference is, "Will the people accept multinational corporations ability to go out and totally dominate human freedom". That's what it's about, and I think they picked the wrong place, the wrong time and the wrong group and I think it's going to come back and bite them big time, because I think people look at it and say no multinational corporation should have the right to say what I can or will do in my freedom of speech.

Do you think anyone except Helen and Dave could have done what they've done?

I'm sure that there are some other people - there'd probably be a one in a million search for somebody else that'd do it. I'm sure that if this multinational corporation believed that these people would fight, the last thing in the world that they would ever have done is brought this suit. They believed that they had the total dominance, that they would just run over everybody. But remember that every change in the world always happened from a small group of dedicated people. They ran onto two people that looked on it and said 'You can't do that to us', this is David against Goliath and we will have the same outcome.

Do you think it will actually have any effect on McDonald's?

It's already had an effect on McDonald's. McDonald's right now would do anything they could to get out of this. This has been a public relations disaster. It is like an albatross hanging around their neck. It is there all the time, it will not go away. The absolute opposite of what they intended has happened. Instead of going out and eliminating dissent they have just magnified it over and over and over again. Every time there are people in front of any McDonald's store the manager runs out quickly and tries to get them to go away. It will not go away. McDonald's cannot spend any amount of money to rectify the harm that they have done to themselves. It has been self-inflicted and I hope the management of McDonald's understand the fact that corporate greed does not supersede all of our rights.

"McDonald's right now would do anything they could to get out of this. This has been a public relations disaster. It is like an albatross hanging around their neck."

Have you got any opinions about public opinion of the McLibel trial in America?

Oh absolutely. I don't think it makes any difference which country you go to. I have never talked to a cab driver, I have never talked to anybody on the street - or a policeman, a school teacher - that supports McDonald's position. And the problem is that when the information gets to the public it is so overwhelming, that every time a person understands what it is about, they are on the side against McDonald's. And it doesn't make any difference whether it is the United States or Canada or Mexico. It makes no difference what the country is. The fact of it is that there's overwhelming support for Helen and Dave against McDonald's. They have made a big, big mistake and it's coming home to haunt them.

So have you had any opinions from people actually in the cattle ranching business about the McLibel trial or the agribusiness and things?

The agribusiness and the cattle business absolutely want to stay away from this. They realise that the longer it's out there the larger it gets, the more pressure it puts on their industry. So they totally stay away from it. You never see anyone within the industry that will say a word about it, I guarantee you. It's in there heads, they know about it. It's an itch they can't scratch and it won't go away, but they sure don't want to make it public.

"You never see anyone within the industry that will say a word about it, I guarantee you. It's in there heads, they know about it. It's an itch they can't scratch and it won't go away."

Have you come across anyone who's come across the issues and then 'changed sides'.

Yes I have. I've met another rancher who came from Oregon and it was an interesting thing. He viewed it, took a look at it. Decided that what he was doing was wrong. Took the cattle off his land, turned it into a wildlife sanctuary and believe it or not, was sued by his family for the loss of income! Luckily he won in court, but it goes to show how strongly some people feel about the economics rather than the issue of health. You can't go out and produce this product and say it's a really healthy product because the fact of it is that it's not, and the economics do not justify the end.

How does cattle ranching work? How do you end up with that meat to sell McDonald's? Did you actually sell to McDonald's?

Well I'm sure that a lot of the meat that I sold ended up in McDonald's. What basically happens is that you have a cow, you breed the cow for a calf, the calf is raised with the cow on the grass for somewhere up to seven or nine months, comes off of the grass, goes into the feedlot and he starts chuffing concentrates, antibiotics, hormones down the throat, vaccinations. That animal is raised until it gets to be about twelve hundred pounds, usually from eighteen to twenty four months of age. It's taken and slaughtered and turned into meat.

If the consumer had to do two things - go to a factory feedlot and see the way the animals are treated and go to the slaughter house and see how they were killed - there'd be a lot more vegetarians in the world. It is not a very healthy, happy looking place.

What about the effects on the environment?

Well you take the animals that are out there and the only effect that the farmer has is to end up producing more and more of the animals. He has no control over the price, so what he has to do is to put more animals in a smaller place. When you do that you end up with a greater effect on the environment whether it is grazing, eating the range down bare, whether you end up with the manure in the factory feedlot. For every pound of feed in the front end you end up with a pound of manure out the back end and most of it ends up in great piles. When it rains, it runs off into the aquifer. Agriculture ends up to be the number one cause of pollutant in the United States in the acquifer. There are a lot of things associated with the business that are not very good and they are happening every day.

What would you say the link between rainforest destruction and cattle ranching is?

Well I don't think that there's any doubt about it that the reason that most rainforest is cut down today is so that you can get the trees out of the way and plant grass. Grow the grass and produce beef. That beef is being encouraged by the World Bank so that it can be sold to end up with currency to pay off the multinational banks in the country. The problem is that rainforest soil is so poor that it will only support grass for about three years and then have to cut down more rainforest to grow more grass and the issue is ongoing.

The Brazilian rainforest today. They are cutting a segment of the Brazilian rainforest equal to the size to the country of France every five years. We do not have the capability to reseed a rainforest. The Brazilian rainforest could disappear in as little as thirty or thirty five years. Only those people that breathe should worry about it, because it is known as the lungs of the world. We send carbon dioxide there and get oxygen back. What will it be like without the rainforest? Maybe it'll be much like the Sahara desert. I do not like the sound of the Brazilian desert.

"They are cutting a segment of the Brazilian rainforest equal to the size to the country of France every five years.... The Brazilian rainforest could disappear in as little as thirty or thirty five years."

So would you say the whole meat industry is consumer or industry driven?

I think it probably started out as being consumer driven and then it got to the point where it is public relations driven. If you look at it right now, to get the consumption of beef up the price has to go down. The cheaper the price becomes the greater the abuse on the environment, on our health. So right now I think that we are in a big catch 22, where we have a dog chasing it's tail and everybody wants to point at everybody else for being part of the problem. But the only way to stop it is for the consumer to take it off of their court. When that demand is not there, then we will see the site of welcome.

How does it make you feel when you see people you know, people you like eating burgers?

I understand, but I also believe that it's just like when they're smoking that they basically are shortening their life and I have never met a hamburger that was worth dying over and so when I have the opportunity, I always tell my friends that I would just as soon be alive to go to their funeral because if they continue eating beef I will absolutely outlive them, and if they want to come to mine they are going to have to change their diet.

So what are you doing with your farm now?

I sold the majority of my farm in 1983 to pay off the debt that I had to pay on it. I took the remainder of it and made it into a wildlife sanctuary. I invite the animals to come and live on it, I let people come and bring their children and see the animals but I don't allow anybody to hunt. And we do not disturb them and it makes me feel at least that I am giving back something of what I took away in the first place.

How did you prepare for the McLibel trial?

Well, it was a difficult thing to have a trial in England and to be able to prepare for it in America. The interesting thing is McSpotlight was on the World Wide Web. The interesting thing was that I was able to go in there and get the information off of the court proceedings, see what was going on. It was an invaluable tool. It was something that if I had to get on the phone, or have had faxes to send back and forth, it probably would have cost thousands of dollars. And here for a local phone call, I was able to get into the World Wide Web, pursue what I wanted, find it, print it out and prepare for it. I think that the only one bad thing about it is I was much better prepared than McDonald's was and they would not ask the questions that I had the answers for. But I guarantee that without McSpotlight I would not have been able to be nearly as confident about what I was doing and what had gone on in the past.

What did Rampton (McDonald's QC) ask you?

Well it was rather interesting that Mr Rampton wanted me to admit to some things that are in regulations and what I had to tell him is that we publish a lot of regulations in the United States. It is not just that by publishing them people follow them. The practise in the industry is much different than what is in the regulations. And the other side of it is there are many regulations that are in conflict with each other. He only wants to pick out those which support his position. He totally wants to disregard those that are in opposition to what he wants but they are both there and what I tried to tell him and hopefully today he knows a little more about, is in the US, what we do in the industry is much different than what he thinks we do in court.

Do you think he was clutching at straws,, trying to break your case?

Well of course. I think that he found it a big hurry that the more opportunity he gave me to speak, the more things that would be on the transcript that he would not like to see there in the morning. I think that he was the happiest to call it to a close, because he really had a closet he did not want to open.

There were a lot of things in there under his questioning that were not admissible when Dave and Helen asked the question, that I would have been able to say he was able to figure that out in a big hurry. And I'll say one thing for him, under his curly wig he understood that the sooner he got it stopped the better off he'd be and that's exactly what he did.

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