SDFU Supports Rep. Johnson’s Work for Truth in Labeling
In a letter sent May 13, South Dakota Representative Dusty Johnson urges the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to find a meaningful solution to allow accurate labeling of U.S. beef.
South Dakota Farmers Union applauds Representative Johnson for his work for truth in labeling.
“Thank you. Your support for accurate labeling, comes at a time when U.S. cattle producers need hope. The situation is dire,” explains Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union, a family farm and ranch organization 19,000 members strong.
The situation Sombke references is the on-going loss of profits in the beef industry, exaggerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, on average cattle producers are losing $247 per head on finished cattle.
“People have to be able to make a living. Young people are being driven away from farming because they aren’t able to make a living,” Sombke says.
So, what does truthful labeling have to do with beef profits? Since the 2015 repeal of Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL), meat packers have taken advantage of the situation, labeling cheaper, foreign meat as Product of the U.S.A.
Before it’s repeal, COOL allowed retailers and their shoppers the choice of whether or not they wanted to purchase U.S. beef. And most often, U.S. cattle producers received more than foreign producers for the high-quality product they raised. Better prices not only paid for quality beef, it helped cover costs associated with U.S. cattle producers’ mandatory compliance with strict regulations that ensure animals are humanely raised, resources are protected, and meat is safe.
Without labeling standards the beef markets dropped by more than 60 percent. Without proper labeling, shoppers no longer knew the difference. Without labeling standards, packers could blend premium U.S. ground beef with low-quality, unregulated foreign-raised ground beef.
For decades South Dakota Farmers Union has testified before the USDA and tirelessly lobbied for labeling oversight. “This has been one of the issues we have worked tirelessly on because without labeling, even though we have a superior product, our producers cannot compete,” Sombke explains.
Then, COVID-19 exposed price gouging. As cattle markets plummeted, the packers began charging grocery stores record prices – in some cases 55 percent more than what they paid cattle producers. Consumers’ took notice.
As Representative Johnson’s letter states: “As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, it has enlightened many consumers as to the importance of domestic food security.
“Beef products processed and packaged outside of the United States would not be eligible for a new label. We encourage USDA to expedite that rulemaking and fix this loophole. Products repackaged in the US should not be awarded the same seal as the products our ranchers and feeders produce.
“We stand prepared to implement country-of-origin labels when trade disputes over COOL are resolved. Producers and consumers alike deserve a label that provides more accurate information, and your work can mitigate the risk of billions of dollars in retaliatory tariffs.’”
To read the complete letter and to learn more about how South Dakota Farmers Union works for truth in labeling, visit www.sdfu.org.