Guest Opinion: From Brazilian Beef to Petri Dish Protein, America’s Ranchers Need to Push Back Now
By Amanda Radke
There’s a great deal of excitement in the beef cattle business today.
Prices are finally headed in the right direction, and there’s a rally cråy from weary cattlemen and women, who have a renewed spirit to keep pressing forward in an industry far from easy.
Yet, even as we feel this glimmer of hope on the horizon, the lingering elephant in the room is the deck is very much stacked against livestock producers in this country.
Volatility in the marketplace is fueled by war activity halfway around the world. Lack of labeling transparency allows for foreign meat to flood grocery shelves. Four major packers hold captive 85 percent of the beef market.
Animal rights activists are determined to shape the farm bill in their favor, with a goal of crippling animal ownership in this country.
Meanwhile, environmental extremists are using green policies as a trojan horse to trample private property rights.
And the list goes on.
But, I don’t need to remind those in production agriculture of the challenges that come with stewarding land and livestock.
While most folks simply want to keep their heads down and focus on the day-to-day tasks of running livestock operations, the wolves are at the pasture gates, and we can no longer afford to ignore them.
Take, for example, this week’s trending headlines.
U.S. Senate hearing highlights challenges
A June 22 hearing in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance highlighted the challenges of cattle supply chains and deforestation of the Amazon.
Providing testimonies were Leo McDonnell, owner and operator of McDonnell Angus in Columbus, Mont.; Jason Weller, JBS Global chief sustainability officer; Riåck Jacobsen, Environmental Investigation Agency U.S. manager of commodities policy and Ryan C. Berg, PhD and Center for Strategic and International Studies director of the America’s Program.
In his testimony, McDonnell criticized JBS for deforestation, as well as their ethical history in Brazil, citing forced labor, child labor and bribing government officials. Meanwhile, in the U.S., JBS carries the “Product of the USA” stamp for meat processed or packaged in the U.S.
“They get to launder their product through here to unsuspecting consumers,” said McDonnell.
Weller stressed the company has plans to implement a policy of “zero deforestation from indirect suppliers by 2025.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said, “The bottom line here is American ranchers are not getting a fair shake.”
He further explained how the company is hiding the origin of its cattle, while “greenwashing” consumers about the problem.
First lab-grown meat approved
In the same week Congress was considering the ramifications of the $1 billion in Brazilian beef imported into the U.S., the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) quietly approved the first “lab-grown” meat to be sold to the public.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a “no questions” response to GOOD Meat, stating the company’s lab-grown chicken product is safe for human consumption.
“We have no questions at this time regarding GOOD Meat’s conclusion foods comprised of or containing cultured chicken cell material are as safe as comparable foods produced by other methods,” the FDA said in a letter to the company.
The FDA’s letter “clears a crucial step in bringing GOOD Meat to restaurants and reåtail in the U.S.,” GOOD Meat said in a statement, adding it “is now working with the USDA on necessary approvals.”
Listen, I’m not afraid of competition in the meat case. Beef can compete against any protein. It’s a well-loved and enjoyed food which is highly sought after here and around the world.
However, these alternative protein companies claiming to be “meat” are anything but. I am worried about the safety, ethics, nutritional profile and environmental impacts of these products, and I am angry these investors can simply make broad-sweeping claims which disparage beef without sound science to back it up.
Ranchers need to fight back
The moral of the story is this – nobody is going to fight harder for our future than us. Nobody has a better story than the American cattle rancher. Nobody is going to work harder to protect our future in this industry than those of us with skin in the game.
We need to get off defense and move to an offensive approach – one where we loudly tell the world alternative products are processed junk food. One where we boldly share the good news about the environmental benefits of ruminant animals on the land, and one where we bravely fight for our kids, grandkids and the future of animal agriculture in this country.
Don’t count on a lobbyist to get it done. If it is to be, it is up to you and me. Get active in your sphere of influence on a local, state or national level, and let’s get to work to keep families on the land and meat, dairy and eggs on the plate.
Amanda Radke is a freelance writer and fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. This opinion column was originally published in The Fence Post on July 14.