The Ear Tag Boys

By Gilles Stockton

The boys at USDA and the National Cattlemen’s Big Business Association must be really bummed that their shares in ear tag companies have crashed along with the rest of the Wall Street economy.  Last year it looked like they had triumphed in their scheme to mandate that cattlemen buy RFID tags for all of the cows. Then R-Calf went and sued USDA, crushing that whole conspiracy. The Ear Tag Boys were regrouping this winter with editorials, admonishing us ignorant cattle producers for being ignorant, but now this effort is on hold because the whole economy has fizzled because of a human disease epidemic.

There is a lesson here.  The key to prevailing over a pandemic is preparedness.  I am impressed with how our medical professionals have rallied to confront a disease for which they were not well prepared. They were not ready for this particular virus but they are determined to use all of their medical skills and training. The Coronavirus may not have been anticipated, but the livestock industry knows exactly what disease is most likely to infect the cattle and we even know from which country it is most likely to come – Brazil.

There will be no excuse for not being prepared to address foot and mouth disease (FMD). Once introduced into this country, FMD will require a very rapid vaccination campaign to immunize all livestock in a ring around each point of clinical symptoms. FMD is highly infectious and strikes all cloven-hoofed animals, including deer and feral pigs. The only way to stop such a disease is to be prepared with the proper vaccine.  Complicating things is that there are a couple of dozen strains of FMD, each requiring its own vaccine. However, the most likely type will be the one they have in Brazil.

The scary truth is that our national vaccine bank is nearly empty because of the Ear Tag Boy’s obsession with requiring RFID tags – a useless mandate. Once FMD is here, tracing an infected cow back to her home of origin is irrelevant because what needs doing is to look for symptoms and respond accordingly.

RFID tags are also not needed to control brucellosis or tuberculosis. The metal ear tags and hot iron brands worked perfectly well to nearly eliminate those two diseases.  Brucellosis is still with us because our government is protecting the last source of infection in Yellowstone Park’s elk and bison.  Tuberculosis keeps popping up because it is endemic in our neighbor to the south.  The solution is to stop Mexican cattle imports, test Mexican migrant workers, and assist Mexico in eliminating tuberculosis in their country. RFID tags have nothing to do with it.

Cattle producers are not Luddites.  We incorporate new technology and innovative practices in our operations when it makes sense. It is clear that RFID tags have a place in many cattle operations. Instead of obsessing about making all producers comply, the veterinary authorities should look at the steady adoption of electronic identification as an opportunity to perfect their systems.

There are all kinds of potential problems with the electronic data systems.  Where will the information be stored and who should have legitimate access to it?  This is not at all clear. We hear that often calves are retagged once sold. This makes no sense. What is needed are policies that require standardization. The big hole in the system is making packers keep the proper ID with the actual carcass?  Unless packers do that, everything else is wasted time, money, and energy. Lastly, there needs to be a method to erase the number from the database once that animal is dead and gone?

Australia jumped on the RFID system a number of years back, without thinking these issues through.  They ended up with a mess and caused a lot of expense and trouble for little benefit.  Since the US cattle industry is voluntarily moving towards adopting RFID technology for reasons other than disease surveillance, all USDA needs to do is piggyback on that trend, perfecting their systems as it comes about.

It is long past time to stop arguing over RFID tags and start planning about what really needs doing – preventing the importation of FMD and preparing to do something about it should it get into our country.

Gilles Stockton

Grass Range, Montana

Posted in General Advocacy | Leave a comment

Tyson’s Version of Physical Distancing

Wouldn’t many smaller decentralized processing plants reduce our risk and serve our nation better. Four meatpackers essentially control the slaughter market in the U.S. All are multinational, searching the globe for the cheapest beef to falsely label and sell in the U.S. market, eliminating any possibility for U.S. cattlemen to receive a fair price.

Posted in General Advocacy | Leave a comment

Considering Local vs. Global and National Supply Chains

What kind of food system serves people best? Local or Global?

Worried shoppers from all across the country left shelves bare at grocery stores last week. Volume was up two and a half times a normal week at Ranch Foods Direct. Our great staff met the challenge. The Big-Box stores didn’t.

Our local/regional supply chain is just under 200 miles long, from Callicrate Cattle Co. at St. Francis, Kansas to our cut plant and retail stores in Colorado Springs. The predatory big meatpackers and big retailers sourcing from highly vulnerable and dangerous supply chains for the cheapest of everything from around the globe will leave farmers and ranchers bankrupt and consumers hungry.

What we support prospers, what we feed grows!

Posted in General Advocacy | Leave a comment

Like Obama, The Trump Administration Sides With Powerful Middlemen: The “Drones of the National Beehive.”

The corporate share of GDP (gross revenue) has remained fairly constant, while corporate profits (in current dollars) have tripled in the last three decades. The data shows that corporations haven’t increased the wealth of the nation, but have stolen a bigger share of the wealth created by others through their abusive market and political power. Wealth and power have never been more concentrated, leaving us with a new Robber Baron era and a full return to The Jungle of 1906.

The following chart is a picture of what happens when the rules (antitrust laws) preventing monopoly power are ignored. Like Obama, the Trump administration, in serving their corporate masters, continues to ignore these important rules that would help improve market competition and income for U.S. livestock producers, keeping these invaluable stewards and husbandmen on the land.

The Trump administration, caving to multinational corporate pressure, has also ignored its “Buy American” platform when it failed to negotiate Country of Origin Labeling in the New NAFTA trade deal, missing an important opportunity to level the playing field for American producers against international meatpacking interests. And, the newly released White House 2020 Economic Report pushed back on calls to strengthen antitrust enforcement.

Legislating new rules (regulations) for the base (wealth-creating sector) of the economy with laws that increase costs, like increasing the minimum wage, or mandating animal ID, without addressing the monopoly power and massive extraction and concentration of wealth at the top, gives small businesses and small and mid-sized farms and ranches no choice but to go out of business, allowing more concentration of power in the hands of a few.

John Tyson agrees corporate mandates to increase profits, and therefore executive pay, pressures company officials to extract the maximum value possible from the weakest parts of the supply chain – farmers, ranchers, and workers:

The captains of Big Food have done well at the expense of all of us, but especially at the expense of rural America:

Considering most food is a commodity, how is it that profits, returns on equity, and executive salaries are so high? Answer: Unregulated and unrestrained monopoly power! Trump and Perdue, it’s up to you!

Posted in General Advocacy | Leave a comment

Trump’s USDA Continues to Betray it’s Fundamental Mission

Trump and Perdue throw our farmers and ranchers to the wolves of corporate agribusiness – Threatening America’s food supply!

Perhaps USDA should declare it’s true mission: The Husbandman That Laboreth Must be a Corporate Serf and Not Partaketh of the Fruits.

The current USDA headquarters was finished in 1868 with Saint Paul’s Husbandman quote cut in stone above the main entrance. For at least the last fifty years the message and mission have been ignored as USDA career people and appointees pass through the one-hundred and fifty-two-year-old portico.

Thanks to the highly concentrated, no-rules, predatory marketplace, we’ve lost over 95% of our hog farmers, 90% of our dairy farmers, 85% of our cattle feeders, and over 40% of our ranchers, with more disappearing every day.

Meanwhile, adding insult to injury, Trump and Perdue are now opening our borders to more imported beef from Foot and Mouth Disease infected Brazil and Namibia, Africa, costing already devastated U.S. cattle producers billions. If we become Hoof and Mouth infected, it will cost U.S. cattlemen many tens of billions of dollars, and cause skyrocketing prices for consumers.

Posted in General Advocacy | 1 Comment