SD Farmers & Ranchers Ask for MCOOL During Farm Bill Fly In

Posted on: April 18, 2023   |   Categories: Meat Labeling, News Releases

It’s calving season across South Dakota, but a group of family farmers and ranchers still made time to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with policy makers and U.S.D.A. officials and advocate for what they need in the upcoming Farm Bill.

“No one can carry our message like we can. This advocacy effort is important because as farmers and ranchers, what is in this Farm Bill impacts our lives and livelihoods,” said Doug Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer and President of South Dakota Farmers Union. “Yes we are calving, yes we are gearing up for planting season 2023, thankfully we all have family or friends stepping in to pick up the slack and help out while we are away.”

South Dakota Farmers Union organized this Farm Bill Fly-In. As the state’s largest agriculture organization, grassroots policy guides its efforts, and for 30 years its members have asked policy makers for MCOOL (mandatory country of origin labeling). It is the primary reason fifth-generation Wessington Springs cattle producer, Scott Kolousek took time away from his family’s livestock operation during calving.

“If we are going to get MCOOL implemented, it needs to get done in this farm bill,” Kolousek said.

Kolousek explained that MCOOL would ensure that consumers know where their meat comes from. And because U.S. livestock producers follow humane treatment and safety regulations, MCOOL would help them receive a premium for their product because it differentiates it from foreign raised meat products.

In March, the U.S.D.A. took an initial step toward truth in labeling announcing a proposed ruling that only livestock born, raised and processed in the U.S. could carry the “Product of the U.S.A.” label.

“Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack’s announcement in March is the first step,” Kolousek said. “In our meetings with policy makers, we have also been encouraging them to support this ruling – and letting them know we need more. We need MCOOL.”

Kolousek, said ahead of the Fly-In, his employee, AJ Karsky, his wife, Amber, and their daughters Ella and Abby worked to welcome 200 calves to the family farm. He says there are quite a few more to come, but thanks to Karsky and his family, he knows things will be OK for the few days he is away.

In-person meetings are essential, explained Oren Lesmeister.

“The one-on-one interaction allows for questions and answers to flow back and forth. There is brainstorming happening instantly versus waiting for a return e-mail or phone call,” Lesmeister said.

The Parade rancher also serves as the District 28-A Representative. After meeting with Department of Justice and Representative from Sen. Thune’s and Tester office he feels optimistic.

“In the past, I have felt like some of what we were saying was falling on deaf ears. Today, I feel like we are being listened to,” Lesmeister said.

 Ipswich cattle producer and agri-business owner, Lance Perrion agreed.

“It seems like they are engaged with what we are talking about and working to get done,” Perrion said. “We visited about MCOOL and supporting the USDA proposed ruling and we have support from Thune and Tester.”

Perrion added that he felt like they are gaining momentum when it comes to holding meat packers accountable.

“I feel like we are sharing the right information with the right people. When we met with the Department of Justice, they were eager to talk with us because they said they need to know what is happening in the countryside,” Perrion explained. “They are here in DC doing their job, but they are not here in the country. They are not seeing what we are dealing with. They need to hear our story and our side of what is actually happening so they can do what needs to be done for change.”

Like everyone participating in this Fly-In, Perrion and his wife, Sarah, left a calving cow herd under the watchful eye of Lance’s parents while they spent these three days advocating.

In addition to MCOOL, the Perrions joined the other South Dakota Farmers Union members to ask for continued support for higher ethanol blends and crop and livestock protection programs in the 2023 Farm Bill.

“Cleaning up our air and higher ethanol blends not only increase our use of renewable fuels, but ethanol is a clean-burning fuel that keeps carcinogens out of our air,” Sombke said.

During the Fly-In, farmers and ranchers also met with Department of Justice officials to discuss progress on anti-trust oversight of packers.

The group also met with Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux; Risk Management Marcia Bunger; South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds and Montana Senator Jon Tester.

“Senator Rounds and Tester have done so much good for us already working together and getting things done,” Sombke said. “I believe Rounds and Tester are the reason we now have the U.S.D.A. proposed ruling.”

To learn more about how South Dakota Farmers Union supports family farmers and ranchers through grassroots policy, visit www.sdfu.org.