Billings, MT | Sometimes I swear we sound like a broken record, and on some issues that broken record has been singing for two decades now. There’s something to be said about being persistent, uncompromising, unwavering, and willing to continue to tackle the fight at hand. This year we’ve had some setbacks and standstills as we do each year, but in 2023 we’ve had several key wins and important progress has been made across all three branches of government that will lead to more successes for our members in 2024.
R-CALF USA advocated for, helped draft, and endorsed many pieces of legislation, most notably legislation to reform the checkoff programs and reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling or MCOOL for beef. A clear victory was achieved when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the Agricultural Marketing Service must purchase meat for the national school lunch and nutrition assistance programs from animals that are born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States. Another victory involves the USDA’s issuance of a proposed rule allowing the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim only when the products are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States.
Yet another victory occurred when the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission released their new final 2023 Merger Guidelines. The new guidelines establish that protecting competition, even when efficiencies are claimed, is a primary goal of the nation’s antitrust laws. The FTC also proposed changes to improve the premerger notification rules. Both actions are meaningful steps to restoring and strengthening competition in the cattle industry.
R-CALF USA led the nation’s current focus on antitrust concerns by filing its national class action antitrust lawsuit against the “Big 4” beef packers in early 2019. In 2023, the R-CALF USA legal team was deeply involved in the discovery phase of our historic lawsuit. The filing of our lawsuit was soon followed by official investigations into our cattle markets by the DOJ, numerous state attorneys general, and the USDA, and those investigations are ongoing.
In 2023, industry stakeholders were reminded of R-CALF USA’s representation of American sheep producers as the Protect American Lamb project was developed under the R-CALF USA Sheep Committee. The project caught the attention of worldwide media when it filed a petition for relief from excessive imports with the U.S. Trade Representative on behalf of the American sheep industry. The petition was then supplemented with numerous resolutions from county governments urging Congress and the Administration to halt the ongoing injury that excessive imports are causing the U.S. sheep industry. Over 120 domestic ewe/lamb producers, feeders, and packers have individually endorsed the petition and those producers control over 800,000 sheep and lambs, representing over 20% of the U.S. sheep and lamb inventory in the West. A bipartisan group of 14 Congressional members from eight states sent a letter to U.S. Trade Ambassador Katherine Tai urging her to favorably consider the petition.
Early in 2023, R-CALF USA compiled a list of recommendations for the 2023 Farm Bill. Using a series of industry charts, we illustrated prolonged and steep declines in the cattle industry’s competitive infrastructure, including its number of participants, size of its cattle herd, and availability of marketing outlets and opportunities. Recommendations included: reigniting competition in the beef supply chain by reinstating MCOOL; using legislation to force the packers to competitively bid for domestic cattle in the domestic market; putting an end to unfair market power between producers and highly concentrated packers by prohibiting anticompetitive practices; providing market transparency by requiring all cattle purchasing agreements to be in writing and publicly disclosed; making the beef checkoff program accountable to cattle producers; and addressing price-distorting trade deficits by requiring all federal beef expenditures to be for beef exclusively produced in the United States, which is what the USDA recently did for its federal nutrition assistance and school lunch programs. The 2023 Farm Bill has been delayed to September 30, 2024.
Meetings with Policy Makers
R-CALF USA took part in approximately 100 meetings with policy makers, including White House officials, U.S. Senators and Representatives and their staffers, and officials at the USDA, DOJ, USITC and the USTR. The meetings discussed MCOOL, antitrust and other competition issues, trade reform for both cattle and sheep, beef checkoff reform, reforms needed for local and regional meatpackers, the need to strengthen protections against foreign animal diseases, and the need to stop mandatory electronic animal identification.
With a new session of Congress in 2023, R-CALF USA worked with many members of Congress and their staffers to advocate, help draft, and endorse 20 pieces of legislation in accordance with our member-voted policy. These bills included:
Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act (S.557, H.R.1249)
American Beef Labeling Act (S.52)
Country of Origin Labeling Enforcement Act (H.R.5081)
A bill to suspend imports of beef from Paraguay (S.3386)
Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act (S.907, H.R.2814)
Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act (S.270, H.R.798)
Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act (S.346)
New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act (S.846, H.R.1646)
Strengthening Local Meat Economies Act (S.2792)
Strengthening Antitrust Enforcement for Meatpacking Act (S.2818)
Agricultural Worker Justice Act (S.2601, H.R.4978)
Fairness for Small-Scale Farmers & Ranchers Act (S.2670, H.R.4979)
Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security (PASS) Act (S.168, H.R.683)
Public Comments, Letters and Statements
On behalf of its members, R-CALF USA submitted formal comments in several federal agency rulemakings, including to the USDA in two proposed rules to implement the Packers and Stockyards Act; to urge it to scrap the mandatory radio frequency identification or RFID rule; to withdraw its Paraguayan beef import proposal; and to implement mandatory “Product of USA” labeling reforms. We also joined comments submitted to the DOJ and the FTC last September in strong support of the now final merger guidelines and to the FTC supporting its premerger rule proposal.
Over the year, R-CALF USA wrote and joined several letters to Congress and other government agencies, starting with a letter urging the reintroduction of the American Beef Labeling Act. We called on Congress alongside 131 groups to restore accountability and transparency to commodity checkoff programs by supporting inclusion of the OFF Act in the 2023 Farm Bill.
We also joined a letter to the leadership of both congressional agriculture committees in response to opposition to the OFF Act from corporate industry trade and lobbying groups. Then in June, we joined 102 organizations in a letter sent to the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations urging Congress to remove a policy rider from its FY24 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would prevent USDA from finalizing essential rules to implement the Packers and Stockyards Act.
Following a USDA RFID proposal and a mysterious Chinese surveillance balloon, R-CALF USA expressed concern that perhaps all of the USDA-approved manufactures of the mandatory electronic surveillance devices were under Chinese control. We sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking for the origins of all the manufacturers of the USDA-approved electronic eartag devices. Vilsack’s bleak response to our letter was void of any information on the manufacturer origins of the devices that America’s cattle producers would be forced to purchase if the proposed rule becomes final.
Throughout the many proposals, actions, and reforms; R-CALF USA issued statements against a USDA proposal for mandatory RFID and against the aerial slaughter of cattle in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. R-CALF USA applauded the new origin requirements for USDA food purchases, and while we appreciated the voluntary “Product of USA” labeling reforms, we informed the USDA that independent cattle producers needed Congress to pass mandatory country of origin labeling or MCOOL for beef. We also addressed the growing concerns of mRNA vaccines in cattle. As beef imports rise, including imports from mRNA vaccine using countries, R-CALF USA believes this heightens the need for Congress to enact MCOOL.
Coalition and Local Involvement
In joint efforts to achieve meaningful reforms in the American cattle and sheep industries, R-CALF USA led and worked with numerous national coalitions. These groups from across America represent farm, ranch, consumer, and trade interests including Protect American Lamb; the Coalition for a Prosperous America; the MCOOL Coalition; OFF Act Coalition; Livestock Competition Coalition; Main Street Coalition (to address antitrust concerns in the grocery industry); and Merger Guidelines Coalition (to make recommendations to DOJ and FTC on reforming the old guidelines).
R-CALF USA also partners with over 20 state and local affiliated organizations. New additions to its affiliate list include the Iowa Stock Growers Association and the Calaveras County Cattlemen’s Association in San Andreas, California. R-CALF USA and Protect American Lamb also worked with county governments in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah to pass resolutions.
Events and Meetings
R-CALF USA made stops in South Dakota, Wyoming, South Carolina, Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, Nebraska, Washington, North Dakota, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota and Washington, D.C., taking part in fundraisers, meetings, and events.
August featured R-CALF USA’s National Convention and Trade Show “American Spirit” which focused on defending against ongoing consolidation, protecting private property rights, resolving price-depressing imports and soaring input costs, and curbing the globalized effort to control the food supply and the independent farmers and ranchers who produce it.
Other events included a webinar, local meetings, Facebook lives, college lectures, national conferences, and a meeting at the White House.
Rural America rallied in support of R-CALF USA by hosting fundraisers throughout the Midwest in Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Minnesota. As the only national organization who relies solely on membership dues and donations, we sincerely thank Crawford Livestock Market in Crawford, Neb. and Jack and Penny Dye of Hermosa, S.D.; La Junta Livestock Commission in La Junta, Colo. and Harold and Peggy Unwin of Pritchett, Colo.; Valentine Livestock Auction in Valentine, Neb. and Brett Galbraith of Wood, S.D.; Fort Pierre Livestock Auction in Ft. Pierre, S.D. and Dean and Delia Johnson of Fairburn, S.D.; Platte Livestock Market in Platte, S.D. and James Fulwider and Kevin Talsma of Iona, S.D.; Buffalo Livestock Marketing in Buffalo, Wyo. and Joe and Linda Foss of Buffalo; Creighton Livestock Market in Creighton, Neb. and Matt Paulsen of Niobrara, Neb.; Winner Livestock Auction Co. in Winner, S.D. and Lonnie and Pam Dreyer of Winner; and Tri-County Stockyards in Motley, Minnesota.
No Rancher Left Behind
As part of an ongoing campaign for rural mental health, R-CALF USA and member Coy Young continued promoting “No Rancher Left Behind.” The campaign specifically features Wednesday evening virtual support group meetings every week at 7 pm Mountain time. NRLB was also featured at the 2023 National Convention and was featured in a documentary by More Perfect Union, “How Big Beef Is Killing America’s Farmers.”
In the New Year
In 2024, we will continue forging ahead to win important farm bill reforms, developing and passing vital legislation, placing pressure on necessary agencies, moving forward in our historic antitrust and beef checkoff lawsuits, and standing up for American ranching and farming families.
It can seem never-ending, every time you feel like you’ve made a little progress and have a good win, five more problems pop up and we’re back to the drawing board to determine how to influence change. Despite the tremendous challenges faced when trying to change national policies, the alternative is unacceptable. We will make needed changes because we will keep fighting until we do. We are proud to fight alongside our pro-America, pro-rural America, pro-small business, and pro-family farm and ranch system of cattle and sheep production. We stand for liberty, freedom, and the right to own property. We and our members are real, honest, and we shoot straight. We are an uncompromising group focused on the issues affecting your family, your business, your community, and your legacy.
Big wins take time, and one of the most important wins is that you have a group behind you who won’t give up on their industry and who won’t give up on you. Stand with us and fight for it. Stay engaged in the fight, know what is happening in your industry, or perhaps know what isn’t happening, and fight for it. On behalf of the R-CALF USA Board of Directors and staff, Happy New Year. We look forward to working with you and fighting alongside you in 2024!