AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. — U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers wanted to hear directly from ranchers about their top worries during last weekend’s Cattle Producers of Washington annual meeting.
Ranchers cited concerns over alleged market manipulation by national beef packers.
R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard, who was at the meeting, pointed to record beef demand, but said ranchers are experiencing “seriously depressed” prices because packers can source cheaper beef from Canada and Mexico under a U.S. label.
Bullard called for increased enforcement of antitrust laws, and said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue withdrew important rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act that would have protected individual producers.
“The meat packers and to some extent the feeders the packers own, their main purpose in life is to see how cheap they can buy their raw product,” Laurier, Wash., rancher Len McIrvin said. “Our purpose in life is to see how much we can get out of our calves. ... There’s no way in the world we are ever going to be able to speak the same language.”
Phone messages seeking comment from several packers were not returned by deadline.
Another concern was the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, a global initiative designed to improve sustainability in the beef supply chain.
The chief architect is the environmental group World Wildlife Fund, which has a stated goal of reducing red meat consumption in high-income and developed countries, Bullard said.
“That is like five nails in our coffin,” rancher Ted Wishon told McMorris Rodgers. “We talk about regulatory things now — if that is enacted, you can say goodbye to this room. Smaller family operations like ours would not survive a global sustainable beef production.”
“We’re battling in Congress right now, and to a certain degree, I feel like we are battling for America,” McMorris Rodgers said, referring to the turmoil surrounding impeachment hearings in the House and other efforts to quash President Trump’s initiatives, including regulatory reform and trade talks.
“I just feel like we are battling for freedom, the American way, free markets and capitalism and freedom-loving people being able to take their God-given creative ideas and being able to do something with them to improve lives and our way of life. That’s really what’s at stake right now,” she said.
McMorris Rodgers said she was proud of lifting regulatory burdens on agriculture implemented by the Obama administration. It means more decision making being made at the local level, she said.
“If it’s Washington, D.C., making decisions, somebody sitting in a cubicle somewhere making decisions as to water or land use, they don’t understand the real world, they don’t understand what’s going on on the ground,” she said. “The decisions that are closest to the people are always going to be the better decisions.”
Two years ago, 12 regulations were repealed for every new one adopted, she said. Last year, 22 regulations were repealed for every new one.
“This is billions and billions of dollars of impact, of regulatory damper on our economy that’s been lifted,” she said. “You see across the board that our economy is responding to that.”
McMorris Rodgers also pointed to review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States rule. The rule is being rewritten because of the confusion it created and the expansion of the federal government’s powers.