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We Cried Wolf!

BILLINGS, MT | Over a decade ago, R-CALF USA began warning the U.S. cattle and sheep industries that the sheep industry was the canary in the coal mine. Where the sheep industry is going, so will go the cattle industry.

The first chart I used to demonstrate the plight of the sheep industry was created in 2012. It showed that since the early 90s, U.S. lamb production had been declining drastically. But at the same time, lamb imports from Australia and New Zealand were exploding year after year.

It was the year 2006 which R-CALF USA declared as the year the U.S. sheep industry became the first livestock sector in America to be outsourced. The proof was that in 2006, American consumers ate more foreign lamb than the beleaguered domestic sheep industry could produce. That year foreign lamb imports exceeded domestic lamb production.

We cried wolf! But no one listened. Instead, they said we were a bunch of radicals trying to establish relevance in a world when globalization was king, and every new free trade agreement was touted as America’s next economic savior.

Well, we might have been a bit hard-headed, or perhaps we just thought we were right, but either way we updated our sheep chart each year and presented it to Congress, the Administration, and to the cattle and sheep industries. The updated charts showed the situation for the sheep industry was getting progressively worse – domestic production continued to drastically decline, and imports continued to skyrocket.

Even in the face of exceptionally strong demand for lamb as American consumers began consuming more and more lamb, imports captured all the growth while domestic production continued falling.

Still, no one listened. So, what do you do when that happens? Well, you either quit or you fight harder. We chose the latter.

In early May we called an emergency sheep meeting to develop a strategy to Save American Lamb, which is the name of the project we undertook on behalf of the sheep industry.

We decided we would petition the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) to initiate what is called a Global Safeguard Investigation under the Tariff Act of 1974 to seek relief from mounting imports. To be successful in obtaining such import relief such as tariffs, tariff rate quotas, or some type of quantity restrictions, we would have to prove that the sheer volume of imports were a substantial cause of serious injury to the U.S. sheep industry.

And so we immediately set out to prove that and after three months we completed a comprehensive research paper that we submitted to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on August 3.

What we submitted was a Petition for Relief to Save American Lamb, and we believe the petition meets our burden of having to prove that imports are a substantial cause of the serious injury the U.S. sheep industry is experiencing.

Here are some highlights:

-The U.S. sheep industry has declined 62% since 1980; and with only 5 million sheep, we now have the smallest sheep inventory in history.

-The number of full-time American sheep producers has fallen 60%.

-Lamb and mutton imports primarily from Australia and New Zealand have increased 2,363% in dollar value and 543% in quantity.

-Today, 74% of the lamb consumed in America is derived from foreign soil and all of the increases in domestic consumption over the last several years have been met with imports – meaning imports have captured 74% of our domestic market away from domestic sheep producers. That means that Americans are now dependent on foreign supply chains for this important staple.

-We found that foreign imports do not have to meet America’s higher production standards. For example, the poison compound 1080 is widely used in Australia and New Zealand to kill predators, but it has been all but banned in the U.S. due to environmental concerns.

-We also found that the global sheep market is severely distorted by three factors: First, is because foreign imports do not have to meet America’s higher sheep production standards. Second, the global sheep packing and processing industry is highly concentrated. And third, the much weaker value of the Australian dollar versus the U.S. dollar allows foreign imports to severely undercut the value of domestic lamb for no other reason than misaligned currency values.

And with all this, the domestic sheep industry has been hard-hit by inflation, which has driven up fuel and feed prices and the cost of virtually all inputs.

Our goal is this: to stop the ongoing destruction of our domestic sheep industry and to provide an opportunity for it to reestablish a dominant market share position so American consumers no longer have to rely on foreign supply chains for this important protein.

Thus, we are fighting to strengthen America’s food security.


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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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