Billings, Mont. "Rural America now has proof that the packer lobby the handful of multinational meatpacking corporations and their allied trade associations** which has caused the hollowing-out of rural communities for decades has infiltrated Congress so deeply that even the President's own political party is refusing to carry out the President's campaign promise to restore competition to agricultural markets for U.S. family farmers and ranchers and rural main-street businesses," said R-CALF USA Marketing Committee Chair Dennis Thornsberry in response to the Oct. 1, 2010, letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, circulated by U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Ranking Member Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and signed by an additional 113 U.S. Representatives, including 68 Republicans and 47 Democrats.
**The multinational packers and their allied trade associations include: the American Meat Institute (AMI), the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the National Meat Association (NMA) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said that while R-CALF USA members have been anxiously awaiting the implementation of sweeping changes President Obama has promised and that are necessary to reverse the ongoing economic erosion of Rural America, the congressional letter uses the pretense of wanting a new economic analysis to deliver a direct attack on the proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule designed to restore competition to U.S. livestock markets.
"The Congressmen actually attacked the GIPSA rule on the basis that USDA "fails to demonstrate the need for the rule,' and that the rule is "sweeping in its scope,'" he said.
"We're dumbstruck by this letter, said Thornsberry.
The U.S. cattle industry has lost over 500,000 independent cattle operations, and the U.S. hog industry has lost over 600,000 independent hog operations in just the past few decades, and today our U.S. cattle herd size has shrunk to the smallest size since the 1950s, he said.
"We're destroying our rural infrastructure and growing ever-more dependent on imported food to feed our nation, and this unacceptable situation is principally the result of past Administrations' failures to enforce U.S. antitrust laws in the meatpacking industry and to properly implement the nearly 90-year-old Packers and Stockyards Act that Congress passed in 1921 to protect independent farmers and ranchers against the monopoly power held by the concentrated meatpackers," Thornsberry continued.
Through letters and visits to Congress and USDA over several years, literally hundreds of farm, ranch, consumer, rural and faith-based organizations have articulated the urgent need for sweeping changes to restore competition lost to Rural America.
"The need for the GIPSA rule is all around us: an ongoing exodus of farmers and ranchers from Rural America, a shrinking food production system that's leaving rural communities in shambles, and the fact our country's dependency on imported food continues to grow," Thornsberry emphasized. "How can the congressional signatories on this joint letter not see the dire need for this rule and the urgent need to implement sweeping changes to reverse the ongoing outsourcing of economic opportunities and food production in Rural America?
"Now, just when USDA finally takes steps to address this disastrous situation by proposing a rule to begin the proper enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act to prevent the packers from manipulating the cattle market, those very same packers and their allied trade associations find a way to round up and manipulate these Representatives to directly interfere with the public rulemaking process," he added.
"This is a travesty," said Bullard. "USDA initiated a public rulemaking process to provide every citizen the opportunity to comment on the proposed GIPSA rule, giving independent farmers, ranchers and other rural citizens the same opportunity that the packer lobby has to formally express their concerns and recommendations before the agency finalizes the rule. But now, we have Congress deliberately interfering in the public rulemaking process by carrying out the packer lobby's strategy to delay and obfuscate the rule before the public even has time to submit their comments.
"Given Congress' action of supporting the packer lobby's interests, the people must now rise up to counter this attack by writing their own letters to the Agriculture Secretary to urge him to continue, without delay, the process of finalizing the GIPSA rule, which will finally begin to restore competition lost in our U.S. livestock markets," Bullard concluded. "There are more of us than there are of them, and we need to immediately capitalize on this fundamental strength."
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALFUSA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALFUSA directors and committee chairs are extremely active unpaid volunteers. R-CALFUSA has dozens of affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.