R-CALF USA: Trump rep, others speak about cattle industry issues

Billings, Mont. – R-CALF USA’s annual membership conventions have evolved over the past 17 years. Despite overlapping four presidential elections, never before did the group extend invitations to presidential candidates. But this year it did and one presidential candidate sent a spokesperson to address the nine issues the cattle group said were critical to the future of the U.S. cattle industry.

The U.S. cattle industry generated more than $78 billion in cash receipts in 2015, making it by far the largest segment of American agriculture. R-CALF USA believes the industry’s size and importance to America’s economy warranted a visit by the candidates.

Candidate Donald J. Trump’s surrogate speaker, former Ohio Congressman Bob McEwen, recently addressed the crowd of R-CALF USA members who gathered in Cheyenne, Wyoming, from 18 different states. Candidate Hillary Clinton sent the group a letter that was read during the convention.

McEwen said he wanted to know more about why Congress capitulated to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to repeal country of origin labeling (COOL) for beef and pork. He said Trump would designate agricultural interests as national security interests, which could block future acquisitions of domestic food processing companies by foreign interests. McEwen also said Trump would work to renegotiate prior trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA and oppose the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. McEwen’s presentation can be viewed here.

Clinton’s letter indicated that she too would oppose trade deals like the TPP.

Delving deeper into the TPP and the global governance it represents was Chairman of Revere Copper Products and Chief Co-Chair of the Coalition for a Prosperous America Brian O’Shaughnessy. O’Shaughnessy described how the recent Brexit vote, which directs Great Britain to withdraw from the 28-nation European Union, is a shot across the bow signaling that globalization has gone too far, has harmed middle-class citizens all across the globe, and was intended to give unprecedented power and protections to multinational corporations at the expense of farmers, ranchers, workers and domestic manufacturers.

Two presenters focused on industry concentration and consolidation. Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of the consumers’ group, Food & Water Watch, described how the multitude of various brand-named products in supermarkets gives consumers the illusion of choice. In reality, she said, all those different brands are owned by just a handful of companies and genuine consumer choice is disappearing at an alarming rate due to unrestricted industry mergers.

Diana Moss, President of the American Antitrust Institute, explained the reason monopoly-creating mergers have become so prevalent in agriculture sectors is because, for the past three decades, antitrust regulators have been lulled into believing that mergers were creating market efficiencies that benefited consumers. She said only recently have regulators started to rethink that proposition as indicated by the President’s executive order issued in April that directs federal agencies to begin taking steps to increase competition as a means of promoting America’s growth.

Another featured presentation was a report by R-CALF USA intern Kersi Latham who researched production practices in countries that import beef and/or cattle into the United States to determine if foreign production practices were on par with U.S. practices. Latham cited several differences in production practices in her report and R-CALF USA intends to use her findings as a basis for promoting the reinstatement of country of origin labeling (COOL) for beef.

Returning speaker and expert on private property rights Angus McIntosh once again provided an insightful presentation on how ranchers acquired water, grazing and right-of-way rights on federally-managed lands under a split-estate concept, how those rights are being increasingly ignored by federal officials, and what steps cattle producers who graze on such lands should take to protect and preserve those rights.

In response to the unprecedented volatility in the cattle futures market, Kim Ulmer, owner of Livestock-R-Us and Huron Continental Marketing, explained how recent changes to the cattle futures market operated by the CME Group has impacted that market’s ability to serve as a risk management tool. Ulmer is circulating a survey to demonstrate to Congress that reforms must be made to restore the futures market’s original purpose and R-CALF USA agreed to circulate the survey to all of its members.

The status of R-CALF USA’s lawsuit filed against the national beef checkoff program in May was explained by lead counsel David Muraskin of Public Justice and counsel Dudley Butler, both of whom stated that the federal government’s taxation of cattle producers to fund the private speech of the private state beef councils is unconstitutional. Cattlemen’s Beef Board member Vaughn Meyer described his years-long efforts to restore the integrity of the beef checkoff program that continues to be housed in and controlled by the lobbying group, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Presentations by R-CALF USA President Bryan Hanson, Vice-President Mike Schultz, member Mike Callicrate and CEO Bill Bullard focused on R-CALF USA’s commitment to fight to reinstate COOL for beef in the new Congress. They also discussed the ongoing investigation into the collapse in cattle prices. That investigation is underway by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) as a result of R-CALF USA’s January request for a thorough and probing investigation to determine why cattle prices collapsed in the wake of very favorable market fundamentals.

Texas rancher Stayton Weldon, a and former board member of R-CALF USA, was awarded the Johnny Smith Legacy Award by the R-CALF USA Board for his selfless efforts to promote the organization and fight for initiatives to help ensure that independent cattle producers do not become “chickenized” by the multinational meatpackers. Weldon was instrumental in building the public support and awareness that caused Congress to pass COOL in 2002 and direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2008 to write rules to finally and properly implement the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921.

Members attending the convention voted in favor of several new resolutions that have been mailed to all voting R-CALF USA members for their vote to determine if they will become new policy directives for the organization.