Responding to dwindling cattle profits and rising grocery store meat prices, the White House has announced it will invest $1 billion in local processors and revive made-in-the-U.S. meat labeling.
Four multi-national meatpacking companies control 85% of the beef market, which since 2019 hasn’t given ranchers a sustainable price for cattle.
Ranchers, along with pork and poultry farmers have for years asked for better enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act.
Meat packers NEED to be regulated to protect our American cattle producers. The label “Product of USA” only means that it is packaged in the USA. Most consumers don’t understand this designation.
An independent, national, non-profit cattle group says Biden’s meat and poultry supply chain action plan will not solve the problems in the markets. Bill Bullard with R-CALF USA says, “We need decisive action, and we view that to be a huge omission in today’s announcement by the Administration.”
The group remains skeptical about the plan’s strategy for addressing decades of nonenforcement of U.S. antitrust laws and the 100-year-old Packers and Stockyards Act.
According to Larry Lee of Brownfield Ag News, Bullard says the dollars invested in rebuilding lost packing capacity and increased transparency will benefit producers, “But what they haven’t done is announce that they will decisively enforce our current laws, our ongoing antitrust laws, and the Packers and Stockyards Act.”
Bullard told Brownfield the U.S. cattle markets are chronically broken, causing tremendous harm to America’s cattle farmers and ranchers, and that the government has been reluctant to take the necessary and courageous steps to restore competition to the marketplace. “The first reaction of the government is to throw money at the problem, but what we have is a systemic market failure in the entire cattle supply chain and the beef supply chain, and the government needs to hone in on that and begin making immediate corrective steps, and they’re not doing that yet.”
Ag Secretary Vilsack says USDA is working on rules and enforcement guidelines for the Packers and Stockyards Act. Bullard says today’s market conditions are worse than100 years ago when the Packers and Stockyards Act became law, and government needs to focus exclusively on the new rules and enforcement guidelines.
Since 2017, we’ve had retail beef prices and cattle prices moving in opposite directions, so consumers are being exploited on one end of the supply chain and cattle producers are being exploited on the other. Bullard stated the problem is that the administration is talking about making changes for the future but not focusing on what has been happening in the past. He says a significant number of cattle feeders and cattle producers have gone out of business and this needs to be addressed.
The legislation mentioned by Biden is a bill the Montana Democrat, John Tester introduced with Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Rounds of South Dakota. The bill, the Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, would create the “Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters” within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Packers and Stockyards Division.
A second bill, The 50/14 bill (S.949) requires beef packers with more than 1 plant to purchase at least 50% of their cattle in the competitive cash market each week for each plant and requires those cattle to be harvested within 14 days of purchase.
A third bill, the ‘American Beef Labeling Act’ or Senate Bill 2716 (S.2716) requires that only beef raised in the United States receives a “Product of USA” label by restoring mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) on beef by inserting ‘beef’ and ‘ground beef’ back into the existing 2002 MCOOL law. The 2002 MCOOL law currently requires country of origin labels on other foods, such as lamb, chicken, fish, nuts, and fruits and vegetables. This means that any foreign animal processed in the United States can’t receive the “Product of USA” designation.
“Our nation’s cattle industry is in a serious crisis and while we appreciate the administration’s plans to write rules with which to implement portions of the Packers and Stockyards Act, correct the exploitive “Product of USA” beef label, and increase market transparency by requiring more information, as well as its attempt to identify any new, potential violations of competition laws, the fact remains that the administration has not announced that it will take decisive enforcement action to protect America’s cattle producers from the harms they’ve been experiencing for the past seven years, and we remain disappointed with that omission.”Bill Bullard, Cattle Rancher and CEO of R-CALF USA
R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America) is the largest producer-only lobbying and trade association representing U.S. cattle producers. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. Visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516 for more information.