Small ranchers say Biden lets them get squeezed
America’s independent cattlemen say big business in the beef industry is pushing them out – and the Biden administration is letting it happen.
President Biden issued a far-reaching executive order in July 2021 directing federal agencies to address anti-competitive behavior by major meatpacking companies.
But farmers say Biden hasn’t gone far enough to rein in the big meatpacking companies, a handful of which control the bulk of the pork, cattle and chicken markets.
Unless regulators break up these companies, farmers say, current administration reforms won’t have much long-term effect.
“We want to bring some semblance of competition back to the livestock market,” said Tim Gibbons of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which represents 5,600 farm families.
“Missouri has 50,000 cattlemen, but 80% of beef packaging is controlled by four companies,” Gibbons said, adding that while Biden has spoken out on some of the biggest issues, “nothing has happened.” exchange”.
In particular, ranchers point to an Obama-era legal reform that allowed meatpackers to label any beef product — regardless of where the cattle were raised — as “Product of the United States” if he was transformed in the country.
This has allowed big meatpackers to bury smaller entities under an avalanche of cheap beef raised overseas while labeling it American-made, said Missouri rancher Darvin Bentlage.
“That pound of ground beef may say ‘Made in USA,’ but it could come from five or six countries,” Bentlage said.
And while Biden’s order contained language to close the foreign-raised beef loophole, small ranchers say they are struggling to trust federal regulators to implement it.
“Industry, because of its economic power, uses political power to cut corners on regulations. All they want is time to chase the independent breeder out of business,” said Austin Frerick, deputy director of Yale’s Thurman Arnold Project, which focuses on antitrust enforcement.
The U.S. beef and poultry industry has a long history of upheaval, with the farm seizure crisis and a consolidation of the meat industry in the 1980s ushering in an era of regional meat monopolies, according to Frerick. .
During the 1990s and 2000s, these conglomerates implemented a model in which farmers became entrepreneurs, raising company-owned animals with company-owned feed in huge sheds built with loans. guaranteed by the government.
This structure came first to chicken processors like Tyson in the Southeast, then to pork processors like Smithfield. He went “on steroids” in 2002 when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) opened the Environmental Quality Incentive Program to pay for hog farm waste pits, Bentlage said.
This implicitly subsidized a glut of cheap protein that forced small producers out of business, Frerick said.
“It wasn’t like pig farmers suddenly went bankrupt,” he said. “You just see the margins shrinking and shrinking and shrinking.”
A similar process happened in neighboring Missouri, which had 23,000 hog producers in 1985. Three decades later, that number was 2,600.
“And it’s not because 20,000 people decided to go out,” Gibbons said. “Corporations took over the market, production and processing and put all these family farmers out of business.”
In 2012, the major meatpacking companies – Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield and JBS – maneuvered the nation’s chicken, pork and dairy farmers into a relationship “worse in some ways than sharecropping”, as Lina Kahn, now president of the Biden. Federal Trade Commission, wrote in a Washington Monthly article that year.
During the Obama presidency, the meat industry lobbied against two specific initiatives aimed at increasing competition in meat markets: one that would have allowed the USDA to address unfair or deceptive practices by packers and another that would make country of origin labeling mandatory.
“At a time when cattle markets are down, the last thing the USDA needs to do is limit opportunities,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Tracy Brunner said in a statement at the time. . “The fact is, we don’t trust the government to meddle in the market.”
The North American Meat Institute, which represents the big meatpackers, tends to argue that consolidation means better prices and quality for consumers and helps the environment.
“The notion that small-scale operations are more environmentally friendly and sustainable than large-scale operations is not supported by the data that suggests that efficiency is the most important factorreads one of the Meat Institute’s “Media Mythcrushers.”
In 2015, after the World Trade Organization sided with Canada and Mexico in their own campaign against country-of-origin labels, Congress repealed them in a spending bill.
Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals, Biden’s agriculture secretary who also led the USDA at the time under Obama, Recount the agency to withdraw immediately.
For cattle rancher Bentlage, the rising prices it had seen the previous four years collapsed and they never recovered.
In 2014, Bentlage said he earned $518 per head for his cows. Now it’s between $80 and $125.
“That means a hundred cows would get you $51,000 in 2014. This year they’re projecting it might be $12,500,” Bentlage said.
“It’s still at the poverty level.”
Biden highlighted soaring meat prices for consumers in a speech earlier this month. Beef prices increased by 20% between October 2020 and October 2021, according to federal data.
“Capitalism without competition” is “exploitation,” Biden said, handing the table to a cattle rancher who complained about “take it or leave it” prices from meat packers.
On Capitol Hill, a number of bills have been introduced to target what many small meat producers see as the worst features of corporate control.
Sense. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSchumer opted for modest rules reform after moderates push back The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by the Connected Commerce Council – Biden faces reporters as his agenda falters The filibuster’s gambit Democrats unfolds MORE (D-Mont.) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThese Senate seats are up for grabs in 2022 Hillicon Valley – Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill preventing tech giants from favoring their own products MORE (R-Iowa) introduced a Invoice this would require livestock processors to purchase at least 50% of their cows from open “cash” markets, rather than off-market markets which currently account for 90% of their purchases.
progressive support Invoice sponsored by the senator. Cory BookerCory Booker’s Democrats call on Biden administration to make it easier for at-risk Afghans to enter US Bass raises nearly $1 million since L.A. mayor’s campaign kicked off CNN legal analyst slams US senator GOP for a remark on Biden candidate MORE (DN.J.) and Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans Overnight Healthcare – Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 testing Congressional Democrats urge Biden to expand rapid testing COVID-19 MORE (D-California) is also seeking to crack down on meat monopolies and impose a moratorium on consolidated factory farms.
And in September, Tester and Booker joined the two GOP senators from South Dakota, John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThese Senate seats are up for grabs in 2022 Watch: GOP leaders discuss Biden’s first year in office Schumer opted for modest rules reform after moderates push back MORE and rounds of mikeMike RoundsLawmakers urge Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine The memo: Is Trump the future of the GOP or in the rearview mirror? Some GOP members are beginning to test party loyalty to Trump MORE, to introduce the American Beef Labeling Act, which would restore the labeling of the certificate of origin.
“Montana ranchers raise the best cattle in the world, and it’s time American families had the right to know if their beef came from Broadus or Brazil,” Tester said in a statement.
Ranchers welcomed many elements of Biden’s order, such as subsidies for new slaughterhouses and reforms to labeling laws.
But Gibbons and others see the measures as insufficient without a long-term solution to breaking up what he called “meat cartels”.
Some ideas include banning those who own livestock from slaughtering it themselves or limiting meat packers to a single line of protein, such as chicken or beef.
For Bentlage, 66, he looks to future generations and the future of his own ranch in Missouri.
He says he is trying to help a young neighbor buy his property. Otherwise, he worries, he is likely to be “sucked up by big business agriculture”.