Billings, Mont. -- R-CALF USA directors, officers and committee chairs, as well as many of its affiliate organizations, jointly sent a letter today to President Obama, Vice President Biden, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Attorney General Eric Holder and congressional leaders that describes the U.S. cattle industry as being in an acute crisis. The correspondence states that over $6.4 billion has been stolen from the hands of U.S. cattle feeders and placed in the hands of just a few mega-meatpackers. The signatories ask for immediate and decisive action by the Administration and Congress to avoid further destruction to both the industry and the rural communities supported by the United States' largest segment of agriculture.
In part, the letter states: "Will your Administration and Congress take decisive action to alleviate the deplorable losses accruing to U.S. independent cattle farmers and ranchers by immediately taking the specific actions we have previously requested and reiterate above? Or, must we now yield to government assistance in the form of TARP funds or other emergency assistance -- as have other U.S. industry segments, including our sister dairy and hog industries -- to begin to redress the horrific damage caused by the unbridled excesses of the dominant corporate meatpackers and failed U.S. trade policies? Or, do you have a better, market-oriented solution that would allow us to salvage what is left of our injured U.S. cattle industry?"
"We have urged, again and again, Washington decision-makers to take action to restore needed import restrictions to protect the health of our domestic cattle herd and the safety of our beef supply, to restore the competitiveness of our industry through the enforcement of antitrust laws, to prohibit anticompetitive practices, and to make changes to trade policy that recognize the supply sensitive nature of cattle and beef, but these warnings were not heeded and now our industry is facing an insurmountable crisis unless immediate action taken," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.
"Proposed workshops, studies and investigations into the despicable practices and policies that have all but completely destroyed our once vibrant U.S. cattle industry -- along with the tens of thousands of rural communities it recently supported -- are wholly inadequate as responses to the cataclysmic condition of our industry today," he pointed out. "Since January 2007, the U.S. fed cattle market alone has lost $6.4 billion, while mega-meatpackers Tyson and JBS each have recently reported hundreds of millions in profits and National Beef Packing Co. brags of an 85 percent net profit increase."
The letter also states: "This theft occurred in broad daylight. Neither USDA nor the U.S. Department of Justice, nor Congress, has yet lifted a finger to effectively address the systemic lack of antitrust enforcement within our cattle industry, or to prohibit the rampant, anticompetitive practices pervasive in our U.S. cattle market, or to reverse our cattle industry's horrendous trade deficit"
"The losses to U.S. cattle feeders continue and are compounding rapidly. Those remaining in the cattle feeding business are becoming fewer and fewer each day. The combination of cattle feeding losses and the closure of cattle feeding businesses translate into even less competition and even more losses for the independent farmers and ranchers who are the very heart of the U.S. live cattle industry -- the 757,000 remaining beef cattle operations comprised largely of independent cow/calf producers, backgrounder and stockers who are scattered all across America. Their numbers also are shrinking at an alarming rate, and Rural America is reeling from the consequential, rapid loss of its economic base. We may already have reached the point of no return: the point where it no longer matters if competition is restored because the industry may already lack the critical mass of independent cattle farmers and ranchers necessary to sustain a competitive industry."
"The hog and poultry industries already have reached that point of no return, and unfortunately, the government's answer to assist these now nearly fully corporate controlled livestock industries that have purged hundreds of thousands of independent farmers from their ranks is to send these corporations taxpayer money in the form of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds or other emergency assistance," Bullard said. "It's very doubtful that any of that money will actually ever make it into the hands of the very few independent farmers remaining in either the dairy or hog industries.
"In fact, it's probable that the lion's share of that money will likely flow to the very corporations that -- because they have been advantaged by corporate-oriented trade policies and have freely operated with impunity from proper enforcement of antitrust laws and prohibitions against anticompetitive practices -- are largely responsible for gutting these industries in the first place," he continued.
"The U.S. cattle industry, literally, is the last frontier within the U.S. livestock and poultry industries," the letter explains. "It is the only remaining major livestock sector that is not already nearly completely vertically integrated by the mega-meatpackers and processors from birth-to-plate"but this distinction cannot last long under the ongoing and unbearable financial losses plaguing its independent participants."
"Our nation's meat safety and meat security are threatened by the continued lack of action on the part of the Administration and Congress," Bullard emphasized. "Our U.S. cattle markets are broken. Our cattle prices are persistently below the cost of production. Our industry is shrinking, and all the while U.S. consumers are still paying near-record prices for beef to the dominant meatpackers and retailers. There is no light shining at the end of this tunnel. Immediate, decisive action must now be taken to avoid further destruction to the integrity and structure of our independent producer-based U.S. cattle industry."
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit 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.