Where’s the beef? This question originated from a Wendy’s commercial that was trendy a number of years ago. Consumers should be asking this same question now. Because ranchers have plenty of cattle to sell but consumers are unable to find meat in the store, and why is the price so high when ranchers are paid less?

This dilemma, while brought to the forefront due to the pandemic, is not solely because of the pandemic. The beef processing industry has become so concentrated that just four companies own more than 80%of all the meat that goes to market. Two of these companies have foreign ownership.  The lack of antitrust enforcement has allowed packers to control the meat industry to the point that ranchers make less, retailers make less, and consumers pay more for a product of which they have no idea where it was raised, processed or harvested.

Farmers and ranchers face challenges with many concentrated industries that are limiting their profit potential. Nearly all of the products they buy or the markets they sell into are industries using monopolistic practices. These practices can be eliminated if our government would enforce antitrust laws that have been ignored for many years. Instead, we have been catering to these industries that generally do not pass down profits to producers or consumers. Margins for farmers and ranchers are being squeezed, forcing them to sign contracts, sales, and purchase agreements that are almost guaranteed to break the farm.

NDFU has always worked on market concentration issues and has strong policy surrounding ranching and beef production. Due to the seriousness of this issue, we formed an ad hoc livestock committee to focus further on livestock issues.

The livestock committee was charged with identifying key policies that would address the primary challenges facing North Dakota’s cattle producers. Broadly, these policies are intended to:

• Increase competition and fairness in the cattle and beef industries.

• Establish transparent, truthful labeling on beef products.

• Increase access to local and regional slaughter facilities.

The United States is facing challenges from the pandemic, trade wars and policies that limit opportunity. The only positive we can take away from these extreme challenges is learning and striving to correct and enhance our systems. We need to seize opportunities to fix monopolistic practices, enhance farm and food security systems for abundant food and a return on family farm and ranch income, and address hunger and health concerns so we minimize our risks when challenges arise in the future.

During these challenging times, NDFU will be at the table offering concepts and ideas. We encourage you to participate in your organization to help spur positive change.

— NDFU President Mark Watne