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Underdog No More

Billings, MT | Ever feel like an underdog? Like your adversaries are so well funded, so well connected, and so powerful that no matter what you might do, you know darn well nothing will change?

Well…get over it because we have work to do!

So let me lay out this story:

Over 100 years ago Congress was concerned that monopolistic beef packers were forcing farmers and ranchers out of business and citizens were going to be faced with artificially high beef prices or perhaps even food shortages. So, they passed what was called the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921.

The Act protected both ranchers and citizens by preventing monopolies in our food system and preventing packers from engaging in anticompetitive conduct.

If this Act had been properly enforced, you wouldn’t have just four big packers controlling 85% of the fed cattle market. You wouldn’t have witnessed the loss of nearly 45% of all our nation’s ranchers. And you wouldn’t have gone to your grocery store a couple of years ago to find the beef shelves empty.

None of that would have happened if the Packers and Stockyards Act had been enforced for the past 100 years…but it wasn’t.

Instead, the multinational beef packers bought out or forced out most all of the small and mid-sized beef packers and they concentrated and consolidated our beef supply chain until it became the skeletonized system it is today, with fewer packers, fewer ranchers and fewer opportunities for both cattle producers and citizens.

So now that our industry shrank almost beyond recognition, Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture or USDA are beginning to understand the terrible mistake they made by not enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act.

So many in Congress began calling for investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice into the U.S. beef supply chain. They want to know what happened…Why are consumers paying record prices for beef while ranchers have continued to go broke?

Well, it recently dawned on the USDA that perhaps they also should shake the dust off the Packers and Stockyards Act and actually begin to write the rules needed to implement and properly enforce the Act. It only took them about 100 years before they figured out that they’d been asleep at the wheel.

So now the USDA is actually writing the rules to implement and enforce the Act. We should insert a Hallelujah about right here.

But guess what’s happening right now?

The multinational beef packers and all their allies don’t want the USDA to write rules that would stop them from engaging in unfair, deceptive, or unjustly discriminatory practices. Nor do they want rules and regulations to prevent them from giving their friends undue preferences or advantages. Nor do they want ranchers to be able to protect their livelihoods by filing a lawsuit should the packers not follow the law.

And so, the multinational beef packers and all their allies went to Congress and told them to stop the USDA from writing rules to implement the Act.

And guess what? Their friends in Congress did exactly what they were told. The U.S. House of Representatives drafted language in the FY24 Appropriations Bill that stops the USDA dead in its tracks. The language prohibits the USDA from spending any money to write the rules to implement and enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act.

You should be really angry that the multinational beef packers and their allies have so much power in Congress that they can get so many congressmen and women to do their bidding. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could put a stop to this?

Well, with your help we can. You see the FY24 Appropriations Bill is now going to be voted on in the U.S. Senate. If you call your two U.S. Senators and tell them to delete any language in the appropriations bill that would prevent the USDA from writing rules that protect ranchers and consumers, then you and I can stop this madness.

And call your U.S. congressman or congresswoman too. Tell them how disappointed you are that they are catering to the big packers and ignoring America’s ranchers and citizens. Tell them to start listening to the people. If you tell them enough, they’ll begin listening to you.

So, you’re only an underdog under two conditions: The first would be if you quit and the second would be if you don’t lift a finger to win. And so, I’m asking you to lift your fingers, dial your phones and call your members of Congress to tell them enough is enough.

Ranchers deserve to have a competitive marketplace, not one distorted by monopolies, and they deserve the opportunity to stay in business. At the same time, every citizen deserves an abundant, wholesome and affordable food supply that never, never runs short.

If we work together, we will win both. Thank you for your help and if you don’t know how to reach your members of Congress, then write this number down: (202) 224-3121. Just call that number and ask for any member of Congress by name.


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

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America) 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 industry. Visit www.r-calfusa.com or call 406-252-2516 for more information.

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