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National Farmers Union talks ag competition with Tester and Montana businesses

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Posted at 7:09 AM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-24 09:09:08-04

The National Farmers Union (NFU) met on Wednesday in a Zoom meeting for what it calls "Fairness For Farmers."

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., was part of that meeting, and the concern is to bring competition to help farmers, ranchers and consumers.

"Almost everything doubled so everything's up considerably from what it was two years ago," said Shane Flowers, owner and partner of Ranch House Meats and Sausage of Yellowstone County. "And farmers and ranchers really not making any more money on their end for that change in retail price."

Flowers says it's been tough on ranchers and consumers.

"I'm a little astonished at prices coming out of these big packers right now because I think they're honestly getting a lot of money out every beef from what I'm seeing on the box beef level," Flowers said.

The National Farmers Union launched its Fairness for Farmers initiative.

"Mergers and actions over the decades have made our food supply chain uncompetitive and fragile, and it underpays farmers, while overcharging consumers," said Rob Flowers, NFU President.

"The American Beef Labling Act, now this is what it does, it's called Mandatory Country Of Origin Labeling for American beef," Tester said.

The senator also talked about Meat Packing Special Inspector Act that would "put some teeth" into the 1921 Packers & Stockyards Act.

"To not have the USDA have the ability to have subpoena power and investigative powers, dedicated to preventing and addressing anti-competitive practices in the meat, poultry industries, and enforcing our national antitrust laws, is a huge mistake," Tester said.

"We've been working together actually for decades trying to bring about reforms to prevent the very thing that's happening today," R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said about working with the NFU and other agriculture groups.

Bullard cites USDA information and says, since 2015, consumers are paying more for beef while cattle producers receive less.

"Consumers are being exploited by paying these inflated prices for beef," Bullard said. "At the same time that cattle producers are going broke, because the market has been so depressed for so long."

According to the NFU and R-CALF, four companies, Cargill, JBS, National Beef and Tyson, control 85% of the beef packing.

In a recent news release in response to the Biden administration, Tyson Foods stated, "the increase in the price of beef in particular, is due to unprecedented market conditions. It is inaccurate to suggest that consolidation in the meat processing industry is leading to higher prices for consumers."

Bullard says Tester's bills will restore competition for cattle and beef, and that will affect the rest of the agriculture industry.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime to permanently fix the broken structure," Bullard said. "This is the best opportunity we've ever had and probably ever will, to reverse that process."

Walter Schweitzer, Montana Farmers Union President, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish were also in on the Zoom meeting.