By Austin Snedden
Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
On Tuesday, February 4th, the Kern County Cattlemen’s Association (KCCA) president, Carl Twisselman, welcomed 90 members and guests, including nine public officials and/or their representatives who attended in Bakersfield, CA. This KCCA meeting featured special speaker Bill Bullard, CEO for R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America). R-CALF represents U.S. cow-calf producers, cattle backgrounders, feeders and sheep producers on domestic and international trade and marketing issues. With 5,100 total members in 43 states, R-CALF USA is the largest producer-only lobbying and trade association representing producers. Bullard identified the major factors facing independent cattle producers that threaten their viability and profitability.
Bullard said that the industry’s market structure is fundamentally broken: beef demand is very high, exports are strong, and consumers continue to pay nearly record beef prices. Yet, domestic cattle prices remain depressed. On April 23, 2019, R-CALF filed a national class-action antitrust lawsuit alleging that the four largest packers—Tyson, JBS, Cargill and National Beef—engaged in a conspiracy to artificially depress prices paid to U.S. cattle producers while inflating their own profits and margins. This suit is still in progress.
Bullard went on to say that U.S. cattle producers are forced to compete in the global marketplace with their hands tied behind their backs. They are unable to distinguish their safer, better-produced, and higher-quality beef products from among the flood of cheaper, undifferentiated beef that is imported from over 20 foreign countries. He said the solution is for Congress to reinstate Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (M-COOL) and R-CALF continues to actively lobby for it.
Bullard said that both the government and multinational corporations are in partnership to capture control over live cattle producers, illustrated by the push for mandatory radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags, along with requiring all producers to register their premises with the federal government if they move adult cattle across state lines. R-CALF and others filed a lawsuit alleging that the government’s mandate violated producer rights. In November of 2019, the government responded by removing the mandate from its website and said that it no longer represented the agencies’ current policy. Bullard said that he expects the government to revive it in the future. He said that cattle producers who are now voluntarily using RFID technology in return for market premiums would see those premiums evaporate as soon as the entire industry was forced by the government to give up all other forms of animal identification.
Bullard said that independent U.S. cattle producers are forced by government mandates to fund the above threats through their beef checkoff dollars. R-CALF filed a lawsuit alleging it was unconstitutional for the government to compel cattle producers to fund the private speech of private corporations. The checkoff funds private state beef checkoff councils that send producer dollars to private third parties, including to private trade associations like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA.) Recently, the USDA responded by entering separate Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with each of the fifteen private state beef councils. USDA claims that these MOUs convert private corporate speech into government speech and grants control over how these private corporations can spend the mandatory checkoff dollars. In a recent court response to R-CALF’s lawsuit, a magistrate judge agreed by ruling that the MOUs convert the private speech of private corporations into government speech. Disappointed with this decision, R-CALF will now ask a federal district court judge to review this ruling. The R-CALF lawsuit did impel USDA to allow producers to redirect their beef checkoff dollars away from private third parties, and the government claims that it will approve where the dollars are going. Bullard was followed by Tatum Lee, Development Director for R-CALF, who told the group that R-CALF is working to hold the government accountable to protect the constitutional rights of U.S. cattle producers and encouraged attendees to support R-CALF by visiting the website www.r-calfusa.com.