Our nation’s food system is at risk!
By Mike Callicrate
Putting people at risk to save a buck isn’t isolated to the automotive industry. In today’s global economy, where the biggest cheater wins, foreign imports of beef and the recent return of Pink Slime add insult to injury for the few remaining independent producers and meat processors struggling to survive. Food companies from Walmart to Chipotle to the mom and pop restaurants that rely on a Sysco food truck are acting contrary to U.S. interests with every transaction involving foreign meat; even worse, when that meat is blended with Pink Slime, food security, food safety and the reputation of our nation’s beef industry is damaged.
The beef cartel that has monopolized and decimated the U.S. cattle and beef industries is searching the world for the cheapest beef for trading into the most profitable markets. The impact isn’t limited to U.S. ranchers. Australian cattlemen have suffered a disastrous market failure with the loss of their competitive marketplace. In Australia, smaller local and regional packers that once competed for livestock have been driven out of business by bigger global players. In drought-ravaged regions, lack of markets and slaughter plants are forcing cattlemen to watch their cattle starve to death. Others, closer to the few remaining large packing plants – which have mostly been taken over by multinational companies like JBS and Cargill – had no choice last week, but to sell at 48% of the value of the U.S. cattle market. Companies importing this beef, or multinational companies that bring it in from their foreign locations, have around a 30 percent cost advantage over U.S. companies that are committed to sourcing cattle and beef exclusively from domestic sources.
Isn’t this likely the real reason that Chipotle has stopped doing business with local producers in favor of sourcing cheap meat from a huge multinational supplier than can bring it in from anywhere in the world? As the Texas Ag Commissioner pointed out in a recent letter, many domestic producers struggling to keep their ranches afloat would be happy to fill that demand.
Lack of labeling in restaurants and wholesale markets keeps consumers in the dark when they shop or eat out. Country of origin labeling (COOL) only applies to the retail grocery marketplace and only for certain items. There are no rules requiring food service companies or restaurants to disclose where food comes from.
Local and regional companies selling to wholesale accounts and sourcing strictly U.S. beef have no chance to compete in the wholesale sector, which represents over 50% of total beef sold in the U.S. Even beef marked, “Born and Raised in the U.S.A.” offers no marketing advantage when sold to food service companies and restaurants, without it being mandatory that the person buying the meal is informed about its source. Big food companies, along with USDA, write the rules of trade, intending to keep sources of meat secret, disadvantaging smaller packers and processors and denying consumers the information they need to make informed choices.
After an extraordinary consumer backlash, Pink Slime (a.k.a. Lean Finely Textured Beef) has snuck back into America’s meat. Companies are again increasing their profits by secretly blending Pink Slime into their meat mixes. No label is required on the package. And even though the trim used for the process has proven to consistently contain live pathogens following the manufacturing process, there is no testing of the raw material or pathogen kill-step required – Consumers Beware!
Pink Slime, hidden in the grind of imported meat, gives big companies even more of an advantage over competitors that insist on selling high quality locally produced meat. Without the ability to clearly differentiate their product in a fair and open marketplace, our best and most valued producers – those who believe in quality and believe in supporting their local economies by keeping their business local – will continue to be driven out of business.
If we want a safe and secure national food supply that insures our ability to feed ourselves, it’s time to restrict foreign imports and domestic trade in a way that protects all producers from predatory multinational meat companies. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) should be mandatory for all meats sold to consumers, including the wholesale marketplace and restaurants. Dangerous additives like Pink Slime should be banned, or, at the very least, require prominent labeling on products, menus and signage at eating establishments.