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