Borglum: Cattle industry the economic foundation of rural America
Rapid City, SD
Our cattle producers are in trouble. I led Senate Concurrent Resolution 601 for the SD Legislature this year asking the President of the United States to negotiate and execute agreements with Canada and Mexico that would remove trade barriers to Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat. I was assisted by SD Stockgrowers and ranchers who have a vested personal interest in labeling and marketing American beef.
The cattle industry has been asking for mandatory country of origin labeling (mCOOL) since it was repealed in December 2015 by the US House and Senate. The justification at the time was the WTO deemed our laws to disproportionately favor American beef and unfairly penalize imported beef which created an unfair advantage for American producers. The WTO threatened a $1.1 billion fine unless it was repealed.
Cattle prices are trending downward and consumer beef prices are trending upward. With COVID-19 amplifying the problem, consumers are paying record prices for beef while cattle producers are going broke. Packers are slowing and stopping production with cattle prices at their lowest point in a decade. Empty beef cases at the grocery store are a sign our supply chains and distribution systems are in trouble.
If cattle producers can’t make their payments, they can’t operate. We will lose more cattle producers over the next few months, a big problem for American consumers. The centralized/industrialized system for producing meat we have now is not the answer. It’s a weakness for all of our eggs to be in one basket as the Smithfield Sioux Falls facility demonstrated.
The cattle industry is the largest segment of American agriculture with cattle operations in every state in the Union. It is the economic foundation of rural America. Beef is a staple of the American diet. Most countries do not practice the same production standards as we do in the United States. Beef sold in the grocery store today is not required to label where the beef came from — born, raised, and slaughtered.
When we get past this crisis we want to make sure our marketplaces are functioning properly so US cattle producers can help America recover.
The solution proposed by the Senator up for election in two months and same Senator who voted to repeal COOL in the first place is an identical plan to one that failed all of us more than a decade ago. Yes, his US Beef Integrity Act is identical to the voluntary country of origin labeling program from 2002 to 2008. This is the same program that reserved the USA label and didn’t require anything from any packer, which meant no one labeled. Ranchers say the Beef Integrity Act is a non-starter, dead on arrival.
So, what is the solution? Congress should reinstate mandatory COOL for beef that meets WTO requirements by: 1) reducing the record-keeping burden for imported livestock; 2) providing importers the opportunity to improve the accuracy of labels; and 3) expanding the scope of beef muscle cuts covered by COOL requirements.
It’s time to use the power of the purse by creating a coalition of special interests – hospitality interests, high-end food distributors, consumers who want to buy quality food – and anyone else who would benefit from marketing and selling American born, raised, and slaughtered beef.
The backward-looking solutions proposed by our current Senator are just more of the same failed ideas designed to placate producers without changing anything. Let’s listen to the people who know what they are talking about. The time for token legislation from the past is done. Let’s get this done while we still have a cattle industry.
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