Farmers Union leaders from across the state adopted a series of policy priorities today to address market challenges North Dakota cattle producers face in today’s heavily concentrated beef industry. An ad hoc livestock committee of active cattle producers developed solutions based on existing Farmers Union policy, calling for fair markets, truth in labeling, and increased local and regional slaughter capacity.
“When more than 80% of the beef packing industry is controlled by just four firms, producers are pretty much guaranteed a lower price for their cattle due to the lack of competition in the marketplace,” said North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) President Mark Watne. “The challenges are immense. Change needs to happen now.”
As an example, Watne referenced the difference between boxed beef and live cattle prices that jumped to a record $378.21 in May. “That’s clear evidence of price fixing by meatpackers. Ranchers are being taken to the woodshed, along with consumers and even retailers,” he said. “We need a competitive market, and that won’t happen until we break up the packers, enforce our antitrust laws, and increase transparency in cattle pricing.”
Other policy recommendations include reinstatement of country-of-origin labeling. “Consumers shouldn’t be kept in the dark any longer. They have a right to know where their beef comes from and we, as ranchers, should be compensated for the high quality beef we produce,” said Shelly Ziesch, a rancher from Pettibone who chaired the committee. “All we’re asking for is to differentiate our beef from foreign products and let the consumer decide.”
Another top priority of the group is a re-envisioned meat supply chain that moves away from national suppliers to more regional and local slaughter facilities. North Dakota is home to roughly 1.83 million beef cattle and calves, but only slaughters 8,800 head a year, according to Watne. “We need to increase our state’s slaughter capacity, especially through the establishment of cooperative facilities,” he said.
Other policy highlights in the report included action to:
- Provide cost-share to help custom-exempt slaughter facilities achieve state inspection standards;
- Allow state-inspected meat to be marketed across state lines;
- Break up multinational companies and incentivize local and regional processor development; and
- Prevent harmful vertical integration in the cattle and beef packing industries.
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