R-CALF – Start of Something Big

R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America

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

For Immediate Release

November 16, 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 explains how USDA’s decision to adopt a born, raised, and slaughtered standard for meat purchase by USDA is a big step in the right direction. It is in three formats: written,audioandvideo. Anyone is welcome to use it for broadcasting or reporting.
Start of Something Big
Commentary by Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF USA
The United States Secretary of Agriculture just announced that all the meat purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) must be meat from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States. In other words, the AMS will only buy meat that is exclusively U.S. meat produced exclusively in the United States.

Now the federal government buys a lot of food. It buys food for the national school lunch program, nutritional assistance programs, and for our men and women in uniform. Among the foods the federal government purchases is beef, and it buys a lot of beef.

According to a new report by the Federal Good Food Purchasing Coalition, the federal government purchased $9.1 billion worth of food in 2022, and about half of that was purchased by the USDA AMS and the other half by the Department of Defense.

Animal products made up about 35% of those purchases and beef, with total purchases of about 28-29%, was the most-purchased animal product. The federal government spent about $1.9 billion on beef purchases.

Now we need to put that into perspective. The United States’ largest three export customers are South Korea, Japan, and China, and in that order. In 2022, we exported $2.7 billion in beef and beef products to our largest export customer – South Korea, and $2.1 billion in beef and beef products to our third-largest export customer – China. That means the $1.9 billion worth of beef the federal government purchased in 2022 would place the federal government’s beef purchases just behind China’s beef purchases, and not too far behind our exports to South Korea.

So, anyone who thinks our beef exports to South Korea, Japan and China are good for the U.S. cattle industry must also believe that the federal government’s purchases of beef in the domestic market are likewise good for the cattle industry.

But there’s much more to it than that. You see, South Korea, Japan and China accept beef from cattle that are imported into the United States from Canada and Mexico and then slaughtered in the United States.

But under the new USDA AMS policy, the half of the federal government’s purchases of beef that is purchased by the USDA AMS must now be beef from cattle that are born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States. The AMS will no longer accept beef from cattle that are imported into the United States from Canada and Mexico.

The U.S. imports about 2 million head of cattle from Canada and Mexico each year, and those cattle produce a lot of beef. Using a carcass weight of 800 pounds, that’s roughly 1.5 billion pounds of beef that can still be exported to South Korea, Japan, and China, but that beef from imported cattle is no longer eligible for federal beef purchases by AMS.

The USDA said it purchased just over half a billion dollars’ worth of beef in FY 2023.

This is truly the start of something big … as this will certainly increase demand for U.S. cattle that are exclusively U.S. cattle.

And I say this is a start because we now need to apply this same origin standard to the other half of government purchases by the Department of Defense … and when we do then all of the $1.9 billion in federal procurement will be purchases of U.S. beef produced exclusively from U.S. cattle, and that will further increase demand for domestic cattle.

This start is a huge win for R-CALF USA members who have been fighting for this change for decades. In fact, two decades ago we wrote to the Administrator of AMS urging him to adopt the born, raised and slaughtered standard for the National School Lunch Program. Unfortunately, back then, we were both ignored, and as proven today, ahead of our time!

In our formal comments to the USDA in 2021, we urged that all federal food programs source only beef born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.

That same year, after learning that a misguided group had urged the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy to allow beef that is further processed in the United States to bear a product of the USA label, we countered that request with a letter to the President urging him “to harmonize among all federal beef procurement agencies a new standard that reserves all “product of the United States” declarations only for beef exclusively derived from animals exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States.”

And so, we’ve won! But so too has every child and American citizen who participates in any kind of USA AMS food programs as they will now receive the best beef in the world produced under the very best of conditions.

Let’s keep fighting to strengthen our U.S. cattle industry and we can do this by calling our members of Congress to urge them to immediately pass mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef.

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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.