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$26 Million Here, $24 Million There: Real Money?

Commentary by Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF USA


Billings, MT | The United States Secretary of Agriculture has an absolute statutory duty to “strengthen [America’s] family farm system” of agriculture (7 U.S.C. 2204b(c)(2)(D)), including to develop solutions to problems faced by “small- and moderate-sized family farming operations.” (7 U.S.C. 2204(b).

But there’s a prominent agency within the department that doesn’t think writing regulations that directly harm the economic and financial interests of family farmers and ranchers is inconsistent with the Secretary’s statutory obligation.

Here’s how I know this.

In January, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a proposed regulation to require U.S. cattle ranchers to affix costly radio frequency identification (RFID) eartags on their cattle at an estimated total cost of over $26 million annually to affected cattle producers – all those who ship adult cattle across state lines.

We commented on this proposal and urged APHIS to withdraw its mandate because, among other things, the proposed rule that imposed a $26 million cost on cattle producers would impose an untenable financial burden on independent cattle producers.

Then, in March, APHIS proposed another rule, this one to open the United States market to imports of fresh and frozen beef from Paraguay, a country that is not considered free of the most highly contagious disease known to cattle – foot and mouth disease or FMD. That proposed rule stated that in return for increasing the risk of introducing FMD into the United States, cattle producers in the United States would suffer up to a $24 million loss.

We commented on this proposal too. And in our comments, we stated the proposed rule that was certain to cause millions of dollars of losses to U.S. cattle producers was antithetical to the Secretary of Agriculture’s statutory obligation to help, not hurt, America’s family cattle farmers and ranchers.

Now, unlike the RFID rule that has not yet been finalized, the Paraguay rule has, and APHIS responded directly to our argument about the Secretary’s duty to help, not hurt, America’s family cattle farmers and ranchers.

Now I’m not making this up. Here’s what APHIS said in the final rule:

[The Secretary’s statutory obligation] does not represent an overriding ministerial obligation. This [Paraguayan] rulemaking was issued pursuant to a different statute, the Animal Health Protection Act (AHPA, 7 U.S.C. 8301– 8317), which is not mutually contradictory with the statute cited by the commenter [the statute R-CALF USA cited that states the Secretary’s duty is to help family farmers and ranchers].

So, in a matter of just three months – January through March of this year – APHIS proposed to burden independent U.S. cattle producers with an unnecessary RFID mandate that will cost $26 million – a cost that producers will have no way to recover in the marketplace. And, it has finalized a rule that will burden independent U.S. cattle producers by another $24 million by allowing high-risk and unnecessary imports of fresh and frozen beef from Paraguay.

Now, $26 million here, and $24 million there, doesn’t anyone think we’re talking real money?

And consider this. The USDA’s own data reporting on U.S. production costs for U.S. family cattle farmers and ranchers show they haven’t been able to recover all their costs of production in the marketplace for over a decade. And, yet the USDA is willfully and knowingly burdening them with tens of millions of dollars in additional costs, with no expectation whatsoever that those millions will ever be recovered.

What’s going on here? If not America’s family farmers and ranchers, who is APHIS and its USDA parent beholden to? Is it the multinational eartag companies and packers who want to control these family farmers and ranchers by requiring them to register their RFID tagged cattle in some national registry? Is it the multinational beef packers whose profits will soar when they can import cheaper, albeit high-risk beef from foreign countries and pass it off to U.S. consumers without even a country-of-origin label?

I think you know what I think, but you deserve to know the truth. You deserve to know why, when our government says it’s concerned about the chronic, long-term loss of America’s family farmers and ranchers, does it continue writing burdensome regulations that will cause even more family farmers and ranchers to go out of business.

You should be angry. And you should call the President and your members of Congress and ask them why your tax dollars are funding a U.S. Department of Agriculture that cares not for the survivability of America’s food producers.

I hope you make those calls because your silence is deafening. Here’s a place to start: you can call the White House at (202) 456-1111 and tell them you want to know.


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R-CALF USA’s weekly commentary educates and informs both consumers and producers about timely issues important to the U.S. cattle and sheep industries and rural America.

Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) is the largest producer-only trade association in the United States. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle and sheep industries. Visit www.r-calfusa.com or call 406-252-2516 for more information.

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