Tariff Uproar

Cattle grazing near St. Francis, Kansas

When did it become so wrong to protect something of value?

Now that everyone is talking about the tariffs President Trump ordered on imported steel and aluminum earlier this month, we must also question why the United States continues to allow the importation of cheap meat that is produced below the cost of production. Allowing these imports works to the detriment of our rural communities, the environment, consumer health, and the livelihoods of thousands of U.S. family farmers and ranchers.

Multinational meatpackers, operating under today’s misguided “free trade” and globalization ideology and aided by non-enforcement of antitrust laws, have been able to search the world, leveraging farmer against farmer, country against country, for the cheapest of everything, to sell into the highest consuming markets. It’s not just U.S. national security that’s at stake. This approach is harmful to all countries that are allowing this plundering to occur.

In January of 1999, I called Ag Secretary Dan Glickman to ask why he wasn’t enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act, an antitrust law legislated in 1921 to protect producers of livestock from the monopoly power of the big meat packers (The Jungle circa 1906). He responded,

“You know Mike, in this modern day of globalization, we need big companies that can do business globally.”

I made the decision that day to close my cattle feeding operation. Secretary Glickman called ConAgra in Greeley, Colorado, and forced them to buy all of the cattle the packers had refused to buy as punishment for my speaking and acting out against their abusive market power.

The idea that we can go from a domestic market with rules to a global market without rules is contrary to people’s interests everywhere while highly profitable to only a handful of global corporations that have grown more powerful than most governments.

If we’re now finally trying to protect our domestic producers in the case of steel and aluminum, why are we allowing this cheap meat to be dumped into U.S. markets? The question I pose here is not just why, but also what should we be doing about it?

This past week, the Board of Directors of R-CALF USA voted unanimously to call upon President Trump to impose new tariffs on imported cattle, beef, sheep and lamb. This is a call to action that I, as an independent cattle producer and meat processor, fully support.

“Since the implementation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the largest segment of American agriculture, the U.S. cattle industry, has shrunk at an alarming rate: 20 percent of all U.S. cattle operations have exited the industry, the nation’s cow herd shriveled to the smallest size in over 70 years, and in 2014 and 2015 U.S. beef production fell to the lowest level in over two decades,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard in a press release.

The loss of these competitive markets, along with nearly 75 percent of U.S. cattle feedlots since NAFTA’s implementation, has stripped America’s rural communities of the wealth and vitality they once experienced.

It is time that we look upon our broken food system, too, as a matter of national security. American farmers have been poised and ready to play by the rules for decades – if only they could have access to fair, open and competitive markets. The president needs to stand strong with both metal workers, and farmers, and tax the flood of cheap imported products that are ruining our economy.

Can a nation call itself free if it can’t even feed itself?

Mike Callicrate
St. Francis, Kansas

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“We have more reason to fear USDA than any foreign power.”

Who Is Allan Savory

Allan Savory has been many things in his life: an environmentalist, an academic, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist and a political refugee, just to name a few. He graduated from the University of Natal in South Africa in 1955 with a degree in Biology and Botany. He believed, as many still do today, that too many animals, especially livestock were the cause of the degradation of our planet. His passions led him to work as an ecologist, working with wildlife populations. In the 1960s he began to see how the grasslands, the wildlife, and people were interconnected and in the 1980s he made a huge breakthrough.

Listen to Alan Savory’s keynote address at the No-Till On the Plains Conference in Wichita, Kansas:

“We have more reason to fear USDA than any foreign power.”

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COOL – “What you don’t know can hurt you.”

A 2007 video on Country of Origin Labeling is relevant today – “In this case, what you don’t know can hurt you.”

  • The U.S. Congress repealed country of origin labeling (COOL) for beef and pork in late 2015, just ahead of Ag Secretary Vilsack opening the border for Brazilian fresh beef imports in August of 2016.
  • Why was COOL repealed for only beef and pork? The Brazilian company, JBS, the world’s biggest meat packer and criminal actor, is advantaged if Americans don’t know that what they’re eating is the cheapest source of beef in the world. The Chinese company, Smithfield, the largest pork producer in the world, also benefits if consumers don’t know.
  • After successfully repealing COOL, a law that 95% of Americans supported, House Majority Speaker, John Boehner, left Congress to join the JBS board of directors. The price U.S. ranchers received for calves was cut in half.
  • Why did Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) Administrator, Al Almanza, allow rotten meat from Brazil into our country for 90 days after it was made public? Following the rotten meat news in Brazil, cattle producers there were offered twenty to thirty percent of the former value for their cattle. Who is really paying JBS’s $3.1 billion fine for corruption?
  • Upon resigning as head of our nation’s food safety agency, Almanza went to work for JBS.
  • Shortly after Almanza joined JBS, a rat infestation forced the temporary shutdown of the JBS Souderton, Pennsylvania beef plant. Why wasn’t the plant officially suspended by FSIS, instead of the far more lenient temporary shutdown?
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St. Paul’s quote, “The husbandman that laboreth must be the first partaker of the fruits,” is cut in stone above the main entrance to the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington DC. Only one person I have talked to over the years in the USDA has known about the quote or where it was located on the building. Yesterday, my friend Greg Gunthorp and I met that person. She was a young security officer at the main entrance. She said the quote was right outside above the entrance, but she didn’t know what it meant. “What is a Husbandman,” she asked?

Greg and I informed her that a Husbandman was a farmer, and the fruits are what the farmer provides to us in the way of food, care of our animals, and stewardship of our land. We explained that today, the farmer and rancher were not being paid their cost of production, let alone being the first partaker of the fruit, like St. Paul said should happen. We explained that people who build houses, auto mechanics, and others who labor, are protected by laws that give them a first lien on the fruits of their labor, but farmers no longer have such protection and are being forced out of business by big corporations that are running our government. These corporations have repealed, rewritten and redefined our laws so they can cheat the farmer. We explained that more and more we are depending on foreign food from global food companies instead of food from our own farmers.

The young security officer was moved nearly to tears, and had to take a moment. Perhaps she was thinking about farmers and their families, or where she would get food in the future. Maybe she will wonder how different our country could be if farmers were paid a living income.

Hopefully, she will direct the many people who pass through her entrance, and a few of the over 100,000 people who work for us at USDA, what once was known as “The People’s Department”, to read and reflect on St. Paul’s message.

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Big Hunger

January 25, 2018

Recently I attended, “Rooting out Hunger: Strategies and Perspectives in the Anti-Hunger Movement“, held at Colorado College and featuring Andy Fisher, author of the new book Big Hunger.

Mr. Fisher seemed to present an open-and-shut case. Chronic hunger is a direct result of poverty, and poverty is the result of concentrated power and wealth. Companies like Walmart use unchecked monopoly power to drive down wages, while their employees, as a group, are the largest recipients of SNAP and other government welfare dollars. Mr. Fisher also described what he called a “hunger-industrial complex,” made up of numerous companies and organizations who are thouroughly invested in maintaining rather than eliminating hunger, as doing so is good for business.

His presentation was logical and persuasive. So, what was the community response?

Following his presentation, Mr. Fisher joined a panel of people representing local non-profit charitable organizations, and one for-profit reseller of food waste (Food Maven). Their discussion seemed to me a lost opportunity to look hard at some tough and critical issues.

One of our city leaders asked the obvious question, “What do we do about hunger?” The obvious answer — “stop feeding the root problem” — didn’t come. No one pointed out that the city of Colorado Springs seems to advantage Wall Street-based businesses over locally owned enterprises. No one asked why the city will build new intersections with stop lights, arrows and double turn lanes into Walmart stores, big box shopping centers, national chain fast food joints and gas stations. Or why so much of our population eats at restaurants that send local dollars out of town everyday on the Sysco truck. Or pointed out how ridiculous is it to hold fundraisers for Care and Share, the regional food bank, at the Broadmoor, which is not only the most expensive venue in town but also a major point of wealth extraction (it has not been locally owned for many years and buys very little locally.) Why is Venetucci Farm, the last working farm within 50 miles of Colorado Springs, being allowed to fail, despite the fact that it was gifted by Bambi Venetucci to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, no doubt hoping it would remain an asset to the community?

Until we address the root problems that cause lack of opportunity for workers and business owners and a lack of self-reliance for our community, hunger will continue to be one of the few growth industries in our region and around the country.

Mike Callicrate
Ranch Foods Direct
Peak to Plains Food Distribution – “Building community around local food!”

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