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Ranchers Push For Competitive Beef Markets

A pair of Montana family ranchers have a longstanding beef with the lack of competition in the U.S. livestock industry, 85 percent of which is dominated by just four multinational corporations.

Representing the concerns of thousands of other producers and consumers who belong to Northern Plains Resource Council and the Western Organization of Resource Councils, Shepherd rancher Steve Charter and Grass Range rancher Gilles Stockton met with Montana’s full congressional delegation last month in Washington, D.C. They expressed the need for strong reforms to U.S. laws to protect the viability of family ranching and fairness for U.S. consumers.

“When you strip the details away, our message is pretty simple: Our leaders can either stand up for family ranchers in Montana or they can side with executives from foreign and multinational corporations who make more in a day than many Montanans make in a year,” said Stockton.

“These conglomerates manipulate our system through campaign contributions and other influence-peddling, and they have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines to settle price-fixing and similar lawsuits. This amounts to a small ‘corruption tax’ for cartel-like law-breaking that has squeezed almost half of America’s independent ranching operations out of business since the 1980s,” continued Stockton.

Stockton and Charter are urging Montana’s senators and congressmen to pass the bipartisan American Beef Labeling Act, which would reinstate country-of-origin labeling for beef. In 2015, the U.S. Congress carved out a special exemption that removed country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork after being pressured by the meatpacking lobby. Other meats such as lamb and seafood still require country-of-origin labeling.

Current labeling law provides a loophole that allows imported beef that was born, raised, and slaughtered in other countries to receive a “Product of USA” label if it is repackaged on U.S. soil. The proposed law would negate that loophole by requiring labels that state the country where all beef was born, raised, and processed.

Sen. Jon Tester is a co-sponsor of the American Beef Labeling Act. Sen. Steve Daines has not taken a position, but ranchers and the organizations they represent are urging him to co-sponsor the senate bill. They are also asking Reps. Matt Rosendale and Ryan Zinke to publicly support and co-sponsor a House version of the bill recently introduced by Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-WY).

“Right now our beef labeling system is fraudulent, and our leaders can put a stop to it,” said Charter. “Montana ranchers cannot distinguish our beef, raised with care under stringent U.S. food safety laws, from beef produced in other countries with lesser standards. We ranchers deserve an honest market, and consumers deserve to know where their food comes from.”

Charter and Stockton met with Montana’s full congressional delegation face-toface during the lawmakers’ weekly constituent coffee meeting. Separately, they had formal meetings with staff members from all four lawmakers’ offices. In addition to urging all to support the American Beef Labeling Act, Charter and Stockton also pushed for an overhaul of the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act, which was passed a century ago to address the same problem of concentrated livestock markets. Levels of concentration at that time were significantly lower than today. Stockton and Charter say that reforms to the law must require full transparency of cattle sales, identifying a significant problem in today’s markets whereby corporate meatpackers manipulate the pricing for the bulk of “fat cattle” slaughters, which reduces the overall value of cattle industrywide.

The ranchers also expressed concerns about a budget rider inserted by the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee that seeks to defund the ongoing work by USDA to strengthen rules within the Packers and Stockyards Act. Stockton and Charter urged the entire delegation to reject any legislation that includes that rider or any other efforts that hamstring the work of the USDA.

“We had productive meetings with all members, and we appreciate them taking the time to hear our concerns,” said Charter. “At the end of the day, though, it’s their actions that matter. We hope they will do the right thing for Montana, because these issues don’t just impact ranchers. Failure to properly enforce antitrust laws has drained billions of dollars from rural communities across the U.S. over the years, because ranching and farming are the backbone of these economies.”

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