By Austin Snedden

We may all have different opinions on unions, but we can definitely agree that some are more effective than others. Many of us are somewhat familiar with the players associations (unions) that represent professional athletes. Of the major professional sports many would agree that the NFL players have the weakest union. Where baseball and basketball players are getting fully guaranteed contracts protecting their income from injury, football players are given a contract with only a small percentage guaranteed, in the most dangerous of the major sports. It’s a capitalist country, right? Make a better deal for your players if it is not sufficient, hold out, or strike. The fact is, while the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) may be the weakest of the major sports, it is still far stronger than what we see in producer representation in the cattle industry. 

In 1996 the National Cattlemen’s Association merged with the meat packing industry and became the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA). Members at the time that were not too busy working on the ranch and were able to attend the convention voted to have a united front for beef. An umbrella organization that represented an industry as a whole can be a good thing. In some cases, cattlemen and packers want the same thing, and that is, a good product that consumers are willing to buy. Unfortunately, the merger that created the NCBA left cattle producers without an association that represented them. Cattle producers want to sell their product as high as they can, and packers want to buy that same product as low as they can, and we are supposed to get along as one entity. Throw in the fact that over 80% of the packing industry in the U.S. is controlled by 4 multinational corporations that have no loyalty as to what country they get their beef from.

What if the NFLPA allowed team owners to be voting members of the Players Association? If that were the case, the 2 parties (players and owners) would have their interests co-mingled. Owners want to make as much as they can by providing a venue and an entertainment experience to fans; and, conversely, players want to make as much as they can from the owners by showcasing their talents and hard work, not to mention the risk to body. Football players have been given derogatory names such as “meathead,” implying that they may not be great thinkers. Well this is obviously not the case, because even the “meatheads” know better than to let the party they are bargaining with control the terms of their own trade association. 

Ranchers-Cattlemen Legal Action Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) began in 1998 to fill the void left by the NCBA merger that left cattle producers without adequate representation of their specific needs. Since that time the globalists in the meat packing industry have tried hard to minimize the efforts of R-CALF, including fighting successfully to eliminate mandatory country of origin labeling on beef and allowing the USDA to label foreign cattle and beef as “product of USA.” NCBA has magnified their voice by reaching their hand into the Beef Checkoff cookie jar and pulling out over 70% of their budget from the dollars that cattle producers are compelled to pay at every point of sale. Yes, that is right. All cattle producers have been forced to pay into an organization that lobbied for the elimination of mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) on beef. Since the elimination of MCOOL we have seen record imports of cattle and beef over the last several years contributing to sluggish domestic cattle prices, all the while record retail prices are being found for beef.

Cattle ranchers are busy, and the loudest best funded voice has been promoting beef, but ranchers are beginning to realize that the loudest voice doesn’t care if the beef comes from Bakersfield, British Columbia, or Brazil. There is a growing number of U.S. cattle producers like myself who don’t plan on going out of business. We know the safety and quality of the product we produce, and we will challenge the global meat packers that have supported convoluted USDA policy making it difficult for consumers to find beef that is truly product of USA. We make the best and safest beef in the world, just as the NFLPA has the best football players in the world. The only difference is that football players have realized that they needed a unified voice in the players union in order to prevent the team owners from speaking for them. We will get there, but like my high school football coach used to say, “it will take some grit and guts.”

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