Ranchers Denounce Corporate Control over Cattle Markets | Civil Eats

Ranchers Denounce Corporate Control over Cattle Markets

More than 500 cattle producers from 14 states rallied to demand that the Trump administration level the playing field.

Ranchers Emery Birdwell and Deborah Clark on the Birdwell Clark Ranch in Texas. (Photo credit: USDA NRCS)

Last week, nearly 500 cattle producers from 14 states rallied in Omaha, Nebraska to denounce corporate control over cattle markets and to demand that the Trump administration do something to fix it.

This “Rally To Stop the Stealin’” was put on by the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) and co-sponsored by more than 20 agricultural organizations including the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), and several regional Farmers Union chapters and Cattlemen Associations. [The Open Markets Institute, for whom the author works, was also a co-sponsor.]

Ranchers convened the rally in the wake of a Tyson packing plant fire in Kansas that took out roughly 5 percent of national beef slaughter capacity. This created a glut of slaughter-ready cattle, driving down prices for feedlots and ranchers. At the same time, beef prices rose as buyers fought to secure product, reaping record profit margins for the beef packers in the middle. Last month, packers made an unprecedented $415 per head, up from around $150 before the fire, while cattle producers lost on average $200.

The USDA has launched an investigation to determine if this dramatic disparity is solely due to market shocks from the plant closure, or if “price manipulation, collusion, restrictions of competition or other unfair practices” on the part of beef packers played any role. Either way, some ranchers argue that the vast ripple effect of losing one processing plant illustrates the fragility of consolidated meat production. The incident also reignited complaints about producers’ shrinking share of the beef dollar vis-à-vis rising packer profits.

“Farm and ranch families are facing a great extinction,” said OCM Board Member and former Nebraska legislator, Al Davis, in a statement. “If our government won’t stop the stealin’ now, the family farmer or hardworking rancher will be a just a dusty memory.”

Ranchers Nicole Pfrang, Tyler Heiman, and Tyler Herrman road into the rally on horseback. (Photo courtesy of Angela Huffman.)

Ranchers Nicole Pfrang, Tyler Heiman, and Tyler Herrman rode into the rally on horseback. (Photo courtesy of Angela Huffman.)

Ranchers argued that fewer buyers and the shift to contracts give the top four beef packers more power to influence cattle prices. The market share of the four largest beef packers has grown from 25 percent in 1977 to 85 percent today. Roughly three-quarters of all U.S. beef is now sold through contracts with large packers rather than through open cash auctions. R-CALF has gone so far as to file a class-action lawsuit earlier this spring alleging the Big Four artificially depressed cattle prices by manipulating this shrinking cash spot market.

Ranchers also bemoaned the threat of beef imports and changes in country of origin labeling policy. In 2015, Congress repealed mandatory country of origin labeling on beef and pork.  Industry research suggests consumers will prioritize purchasing domestically raised beef, and independent ranchers argue they’re disadvantaged in a marketplace that allows foreign products to compete without a label – or worse, with a deceitful one. A Food Safety and Inspection Service rule allows foreign-grown meat repackaged in the United States to be labeled a product of the USA.

“[Ranchers] are being told to buck up and compete but your hands are tied behind your back because Congress eliminated the only marketing tool available to you,” said R-CALF’s CEO, Bill Bullard.

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Several speakers argued that the rise of corporate meatpackers and foreign imports fly in the face of President Trump’s “America First” and “Drain the Swamp” agendas, which drew the support of many farmers in 2016.

Attendees tweeted directly at the President, calling on him and the Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to withdraw from the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement until it includes mandatory country of origin labeling. They also asked the Trump administration to prevent foreign-raised beef from being labeled “Product of the USA,” and to halt all talks to import Brazilian beef.

Finally, the rally promoted restoration of an independent Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) as well as more resources and reforms to better enforce the Packers & Stock Act. Secretary Perdue dissolved GIPSA as an independent agency in 2018 and also repealed an interim rule change that would have clarified farmer and ranchers’ rights to challenge meatpacker abuses under the Packers & Stockyards Act.

This article originally appeared in Food and Power and is reprinted with permission.

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Top photo: Ranchers Emery Birdwell and Deborah Clark on the Birdwell Clark Ranch in Texas. (Photo credit: USDA NRCS)

Claire Kelloway is the primary reporter for Food and PowerFood & Power and a senior food and farming researcher at the Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly think tank based in Washington, D.C. Read more >

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  1. Peggy marenco
    Please help American farmers and ranchers. We need COOL. And help with the powerful 4 packing houses they are bankrupting us.
  2. Leon Starkman
    Fine article
  3. joanofark06
    I'm sure glad someone else is none too happy about Trump's ways.

    This is the first of hearing about THIS subject, but it'll sure go into my Archive, of what our government is doing, from the top down. But right now, I'd love to show everyone a few MORE things about "the man of the hour", that people are not happy about, and that would include myself.

    85 Environmental Rules Being
    Rolled Back Under Trump

    (This comes from NYTimes, and if you haven't forked over money just to read it, then good. If you know how to copy and paste, just copy the headline you find interesting, and want to read, and post/paste the headline in your browser's search box. You'll more than likely, find the SAME title, on between 2 or 50 OTHER websites, where you can read it for free. But they will give you around 10 articles to read for FREE, a month, before you have to pay up!)

    As for another subject, I have to show, how Trump supports Monsanto, and their GMO's, which is very sad. I would NOT say that this, and many other actions he has done, is making America great again, at all!

    Genetically Engineered Farm Animals: Regulators Rush to Keep Consumers in the Dark


    So you farmers, who don't agree with GMO's, or Monsanto, well, you're outta the game.....sadly.

    Trump EPA bows to Monsanto, reapproves dangerous, drift-prone pesticide


    SHOCK as Trump signs executive order that will end most regulations and oversight on genetically engineered food


    Trump Admin Reverses Ban on Bee-Killing Pesticides, Some GMO Crops


    (Video) President Trump Signs $400 Billion Farm Bill | TIME (I'll guess that this money didn't help farmers...that much.?


    So I do feel pretty bad for these ranchers. So sorry to see them suffer.
  4. Codger
    Tyson wants to control every human and give their unpaid tax dollars to the people that don't even live in this country . I have even seen this done to the Turkey Farmer here in my state . These people have to much power and are democratically out of control. We the people need to eat what God us ,not what they decide they gave us . Piss on Tyson ,this is the Americans and for america . Pay the farmer back Tyson and stop being a snake .
  5. Bill Armbrust
    Production agriculture today is 100% the result of what consumers demand of food processors, retail stores, and suppliers of the inputs we use. You can say multi national corporations greatly influence this but they only influence, they do not demand. While it is our governments job to reign in our capitalist economic system with anti trust and regulation, it is the consumers job to elect what farmers do through their food choices. Farmers are natural allies of consumers. Farming/ranching is overwhelmingly a life style and location choice- but we must make a profit and a decent living. If consumers say grow "something" and do it "this way", and are willing to pay what it takes to do it, Farmers, suppliers, processors, wholesalers, and retailers will fall in line. Consumers must do the hard lifting or it will not happen.

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