R-CALF: Put Your Oxygen Mask on First Before Helping Others – We should be able to feed ourselves

R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America

"Fighting for the Independent U.S. Cattle Producer"

For Immediate Release

October 12, 2023

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard

Phone: 406-252-2516; r-calfusa

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Please find below R-CALF USA’s weekly opinion/commentary that discusses why the U.S should begin focusing on rebuilding our domestic food production capacity rather than continually relying upon foreign supply chains for more and more food. It is in three formats: written,audioandvideo. Anyone is welcome to use it for broadcasting or reporting.
Put Your Oxygen Mask on First Before Helping Others
Commentary by Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF USA
If you’ve been on a commercial plane, you know these safety instructions: Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Obviously, what that means is that the safety of those that depend on you is best assured when you have first taken steps to ensure your own safety.

Now ratchet this analogy up by a magnitude of ten and ask what is the prudent course for our nation: Should we ensure that we can, under all circumstances, achieve self-sufficiency in our U.S. food production system before we consider the argument that our objective as a nation should be to “help” foreign countries find new markets by opening our market up to their unlimited food imports?

We know that over the past several decades we have pursued this “we must help other countries by offering them our market” course of action and we’ve encouraged increased volumes of foreign-sourced food into the United States, even if that meant we would dismantle some of our own food production capacity.

Let’s go from the specific to the general, starting with the production of meat – our primary protein sources. Not long ago, about half the shrimp consumed in America was domestic-caught shrimp, with much of it sourced from Louisiana fishermen. But that has all changed because policy makers believed it prudent to open our market up to exporting countries such as India, Indonesia and Ecuador – in an effort to help them by granting them U.S. market access. The result: today only about 10% of the shrimp consumed in America is produced domestically, with 90% sourced from foreign countries.

Now we’ve talked about the U.S. sheep industry and, like in the shrimp industry, it wasn’t long ago that over half the lamb consumed in America was produced by American sheep men and women. And, also like the shrimp industry, all that has changed because policy makers decided to “help” Australia, New Zealand and several other countries by granting them unlimited access to the U.S. market. The result: Today American sheep men and women only provide 26% of the lamb consumed in America while consumers are now reliant on foreign countries for 74% of their lamb meat.

So now consider this as we look at the rising level of foods for which we depend on foreign supply chains. If you had a child turn 20 years old last year, then when that child was born the U.S. imported 47.2 billion dollars’ worth of food. But last year, on your child’s 20th birthday, food imports had exploded to just shy of 200 billion dollars. This means that in just 20 years, the value of total food imported by the United States more than quadrupled. This is a huge increase even if we adjust the 2002 total food import value for inflation. Factoring in inflation, the 47.2 billion dollars in food imports 20 years ago would be only about 80.5 billion in today’s dollars. That inflation adjustment still represents a huge increase as today it’s about two and one-half times greater.

And you might recall an earlier episode where I mentioned that U.S. food imports had surpassed U.S. food exports in 2019, and last year the U.S. was a net food importer at the tune of 6 billion dollars.

I hope everyone knows that we’re all being placated by our government regarding our growing dependency on foreign food and the simultaneous dismantling of our domestic food production capacity.

Here’s what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says about how important it is that we welcome these additional imports: “To help meet these consumer demands, the United States imports about 15 percent of its overall food supply.”

So don’t worry, be happy because we’re doing this to meet U.S. consumer demands. You’re supposed to overlook the fact that we’re doing this at the cost of dismantling our capacity to feed ourselves.

So back to putting your oxygen mask on first. Why is this so important in the grand scheme of things?

Consider what happens when major events rattle the globe. In 2020 there was the COVID pandemic that disrupted foreign supply chains of all kinds, including food. In 2022 the Russian invasion of Ukraine disrupted foreign supply chains, including food. And now the Hamas attack on Israel threatens to again disrupt foreign supply chains, and food could well be included.

What we know from our history, both early and present, is that geopolitical conflicts arise periodically. And what we should have learned from history is that we should be prepared for their eventuality.

So, when you hear the phrase “Control the food, control the people,” which is now being bantered about much more often than before, you should think “Oxygen mask.”

And that means you should call your members of Congress to tell them you want them to immediately begin rebuilding America’s food production capacity. Tell them they should start by protecting our U.S. shrimp and sheep industries. Tell them that we must put America first in terms of achieving self-sufficiency in our U.S. food production, and then, we can begin to help other nations by offering them some access to our U.S. market.

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R-CALF USA’s weekly commentary educates and informs both consumers and producers about timely issues important to the U.S. cattle and sheep industries and rural America.

Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) is the largest producer-only trade association in the United States. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle and sheep industries. Visit www.r-calfusa.com or call 406-252-2516 for more information.