South Dakotans are Bolstering the American Food Supply Chain
During the month of August, Congress traditionally takes an extended break from Washington to spend time at home to hear firsthand from their constituents, and this year is no different. It’s an opportunity for me to travel the state and hear directly from you about the issues you care about. While this year looks a little different – with many events like Dakotafest, county fairs and concerts being canceled, and others being held virtually– I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to visit with a number of South Dakotans in our first couple weeks of August.
Most recently, I was in the Wall area to meet with local ranchers to update them on legislation we’ve been working on to correct some of the ongoing issues plaguing the cattle market. I also stopped by a local meat processing facility and got to meet with Ken Charfauros, who has been the owner of Wall Meat Processing since 2017.
Ken is a veteran of the Air Force. His last duty station was at Ellsworth Air Force Base before retiring after 30 years and 13 deployments post-9/11. While stationed at Ellsworth, he fell in love with the Black Hills and decided to make West River his home. From the moment he and his partner, Janet Niehaus, took over Wall Meat Processing, they sought ways to update the 50-plus year facility and help bring more local beef and pork to the area. Locally-raised meat products are sold right at Wall Meat Processing or can be found at the Red Rock Restaurant a few blocks down the street, a restaurant Ken and Janet also own.
Ken also helped start a program to bring locally-raised and processed beef to school lunch programs, which was launched a couple years ago. It’s an opportunity for our South Dakota students to get high-quality, nutritious meat while also opening up new opportunities for local ranchers. Today, 10 schools participate in the program, including schools in Wall, Kadoka, New Underwood and elsewhere. They’ve had a lot of success in the few years they’ve owned Wall Meat Processing, and during our visit they told me they hope to expand the facility in the near future.
It is processors like Ken who would benefit from legislation I’ve introduced that would pave the way for meat and poultry products that pass state inspection standards to be sold across state lines. It’s important to note that state meat inspection standards are required by law to be “at least equal” to federal inspection standards. This would help to open up new markets for South Dakota’s top quality meat and poultry products at a time when our food supply chain is under stress.
Additionally, South Dakota cattle producers are put at a competitive disadvantage due to unfair labeling requirements in our country. There is a loophole in our laws that allows for beef from overseas to be labeled as a “Product of the U.S.A.” if it undergoes any type of processing here. It’s just not right. It’s unfair to both our hardworking American producers as well as to consumers, who deserve transparency in what they’re buying. I’ve introduced a bill with Senator John Thune to close that loophole so we can make sure only beef that has been born, raised and slaughtered here can have a “Product of the U.S.A.” label. I’m also working on legislation requiring the U.S. Trade Representative to enter into negotiations that would allow for Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling to be reinstated without the threat of tariffs. These common sense proposals will help improve the prices our cattle producers can get for their products.
In order to establish a fair cattle market for producers, real, vigorous price discovery is also needed. I’ve introduced legislation with Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa that would require a minimum of 50 percent of a meat packer’s weekly volume of beef slaughter be purchased on the open or spot market. Our legislation will provide much-needed transparency to the cattle industry to make sure producers are paid fairly for their product.
In the Senate, I’ll continue prioritizing ways to strengthen our food supply chain and support South Dakota producers. As I continue my August travels across the state, I look forward to meeting with more people like Ken, who run small businesses that are vital to their local economies, who are deeply involved in their communities, and who would benefit from less government intrusion and more common sense on federal policies.