It is not often when I write my president’s message that I call on cattle ranchers to step up and be part of the political process. That time has come, as we are debating and having dialogue on a number of issues of great concern to livestock markets and potential demand for products.

Two weeks ago, I returned from an NFU fly-in and board meeting in Washington, D.C. We took a stand on everything from labeling products according to their country of origin to the Impossible Burger and lab-grown meat. In each case, Farmers Union was asking for truth in labeling laws, so consumers know what they are eating or buying. Truth in labeling is essential for consumer choice and eliminating false advertising.

With USMCA getting close to passage, it is terrible that Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) will not be part of this new agreement. Consumers still believe that food labeled “USDA Inspected” means it was grown and raised in the U.S. Many other nations in the world have the right to label their products. Our ranchers should be allowed to do the same here. 

We also talked about the impact of current trade wars on beef markets. While USDA is set to purchase beef in response to the trade war’s impact, it is not near the quantity that may actually move market prices up.

NFU and NDFU have also joined a lawsuit on market concentration. The suit alleges the nation’s four largest beef packers violated U.S. antitrust laws, the Packers and Stockyards Act, and the Commodity Exchange Act by unlawfully depressing the prices paid to American ranchers.

In August, live cattle prices dropped $3 per cwt on a Monday following news that a Kansas beef processing plant was severely damaged by fire. At the same time, margins increased as prices for choice cuts of beef shipped to wholesale buyers in large boxes climbed 10% to $237.85 per cwt, according to USDA data. Cattle traded for $105 per cwt in cash markets in Kansas and Texas that week, down about 5% from the previous week, according to traders.

USDA also stripped away rancher rights in GIPSA. We had four rules that would have enabled ranchers to take action against processors due to unfair contracts and monopolistic practices. Our only tool now is to go the path of extremely expensive class action lawsuits. This gives the individual very little opportunity to fight for their rights against a large conglomerate.

It seems odd that all this is happening at once, but it is really a lack of attention over time that has brought us to this point. As producers, we can no longer ignore what is happening around us, thinking someone else will speak out. When ranchers are not at the table, we are ON THE TABLE and our friends in the processing industry have become extremely selfish and only responsible to their shareholders.

Farmers Union is working all of these issues. But to be more effective, we need individual ranchers calling their representatives, demanding action and solutions. The time to act is now.

— NDFU President Mark Watne