Oakes: Deregulation will help industry
Keystone, South Dakota
South Dakota legislators are considering allocating CARES Act bailout money to beef processing companies to help upgrade their facilities. We should always be looking for ways to help local producers stay competitive, and this is a great use for the money.
That said, while it will certainly solve problems in the short term, throwing bailout money at the problem is ultimately like throwing a bucket of water at a wildfire. This crisis may have been brought to everyone’s attention by COVID-19, but producers have been struggling for years and will continue to struggle long after subsidies like this have run dry.
The Big Four packers use their near-monopoly positioning — created in large part by overregulation in the first place — to pay absurdly low prices to ranchers by threatening to increase foreign imports. As more and more producers are forced to give up, the crisis approaches the point of no return. If our beef industry is to survive, regulatory reform must come swiftly at both the federal and state levels.
At the federal level, we need to begin with reinstating mandatory country of origin labeling (mCOOL) laws. Transparent source labeling is an important component of both consumer education and market choice. Foreign beef might be just fine with some, but we must let consumers make an educated decision.
Additionally, Congress must change meat packing regulations to keep from smothering smaller producers. The PRIME Act, first introduced in 2015 by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) would exempt certain meat processing activities from federal inspection requirements, allowing producers to more easily circumvent the Big Four while also offering a solution to national supply chain problems such as those experienced by Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods during the recent COVID outbreak. Unfortunately, the PRIME Act still has yet to see the light of day.
At the state level, change begins with the creation or expansion of local meat processing co-ops. More processing throughput means fewer production bottlenecks.
Additionally, we must follow Wyoming’s lead and enact food freedom legislation that will allow our farmers and ranchers the opportunity to market their critters and other products directly.
Earlier this year, the Wyoming legislature, thanks to the efforts of Rep. Tyler Lindholm of Sundance, expanded their state’s groundbreaking food freedom laws to include beef. They are the first in the nation to allow consumers to buy beef directly from producers in small quantities, down to individual cuts. Check out tinyurl.com/wy-beef for details.
Our state should be doing everything we can to diversify our economic base and make our producers less dependent on the Big Four to get meat to market. CARES money for meat processors is a step in the right direction. mCOOL and the PRIME Act are too, but they each have to go through a Congress that would rather fight than work.
In the meantime, we can provide for our own by enacting food freedom laws that protect our ag industry and help to put South Dakota beef on South Dakota tables.
Gideon Oakes is a Libertarian candidate for District 30 Senator. A former restaurateur, he now works as a local real estate agent, landlord and marketing contractor. He and his wife, Mary, have two children and live near Keystone. Oakes, 35, was elected twice to the Keystone Board of Trustees and has served on the boards of several governmental and civic organizations.
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