Feds Continue to Miss the Mark on Livestock Policy
I read a quote from my local sale barn operator Bryan Hanson, the other day: “You used to be able to survive on a 100 head operation; now you have to have a full-time job and run 100 cows.”
Anyone that knows Bryan or has read his market report knows that he doesn’t pull punches. I’ve known his dad, Dennis, for many years, and I’ve enjoyed that same no-nonsense style from him as well. But I’d take Bryan’s statement one step further - I’d actually contend that without another full time job, you couldn’t afford to run 100 cows. That’s a pretty sad situation if you stop and consider South Dakota’s rich ranching heritage.
We have been working with other members of the Senate on a number of different livestock reform proposals. We need to build coalitions to move these proposals forward. That means gaining support from Members of Congress, as well as administration officials and outside groups. For example, on March 19 I sent a letter to the Department of Justice calling for an investigation into price fixing in the cattle market. At the time, I was joined by three other senators. Less than two months later, we had the support of 18 senators as well as President Trump and 11 attorneys general.
We’ve worked hand-in-hand with Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who have led the charge to push commonsense cattle market legislation forward. I’m thankful for their leadership. However, despite the bipartisan support for meaningful reforms, even stalwarts like them have been completely jammed up by the bureaucracy and the national lobby associations that continue to protect the status quo.
In the last several weeks, we demanded (and were denied) a vote on the New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act, bipartisan legislation that I authored with Senator Angus King (I-Maine) – and that has 11 other Senate cosponsors. Basically, this proposal would allow smaller meat processors to inject competition into the marketplace by allowing facilities with a state-inspected certification the ability to sell products across state lines. A locker in Hudson can sell to a resident of Lemmon, hundreds of miles away, but they can’t sell across the Iowa border, just 25 miles away. Additionally, the state inspection certification is equal or stronger than federal certification. The current system doesn’t make any sense.
Today, we are actually giving an unfair and unnecessary advantage to the large, sometimes foreign-owned meat processing facilities. Large facilities typically pursue licensing through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) federal meat inspection process, which gives them a certification allowing them to sell across state lines.
Recently, we saw firsthand how strong our opposition is. Apparently, their stranglehold on certain members of Congress is so tight that they wouldn’t even allow a vote. Frankly, the deck is stacked in their favor and we need to find the force to tip it over.
The dysfunction in Washington, D.C., is maddening. Even commonsense proposals like this don’t get a fair shake. However, the dysfunction isn’t confined to Congress. The bureaucracy is entrenched and hard to move. These bureaucrats, who have never been to a sale barn or stepped foot on a ranch, have the audacity to claim to know better than our producers and processors.
It’s going to take a groundswell of support and a commitment to the cause to make progress. That’s the honest truth. It’s also going to take a unified effort.
I’ve been left to wonder: if the swamp will fight so hard about something so commonsense as state inspected locker plants - imagine how hard they’ll fight greater market transparency, Product of the U.S.A. labeling and Mandatory Country Of Origin Labeling (MCOOL).
As an industry we need to reach out to consumers and leaders from other states. Consumers are being misled under the current system and there is an entire army of opponents desperately trying to keep it that way. If the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t teach us anything else, it should have taught Americans that the source of their food matters and dependence on foreign countries is dangerous.
We need to expand the tent, stay the course and push together. We’re in this fight together.