Have you fired up your barbecue grill lately? What did you cook? If you are anything like me, your protein of choice when grilling is beef. My family and I look forward to our weekly steak night which, if the mosquitoes aren’t overly annoying, we eat at our table on our deck. I know that we are not unique in our love of summer barbecues, and that barbecue grills across North Dakota are sizzling and smoking with cuts of beef on a daily basis.

When you bought your cut of beef for your family’s meal, did it have a “Product of U.S.A” label on it? Did you know that label doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does? A regulation loophole allows foreign beef that has been repackaged in the U.S. to be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” So, while you thought you were supporting the livelihoods of your friends and neighbors who raise cattle by purchasing a product with that label, you may have unknowingly been supporting a rancher in Brazil or elsewhere.

Truth in labeling, or lack thereof, is just one of the many hurdles that cattle producers in our state face as they struggle to make a living doing what they love. North Dakota Farmers Union has been, over the years, a strong ally to North Dakota’s cattle producers and has recently taken the initiative to institute policy changes which will, if put into place, help to ensure that producers are more fairly compensated for the work they do.

NDFU recently put together an ad hoc livestock committee, composed of producers from across our state. The charge of the committee was to identify key challenges that North Dakota cattle producers face and then recommend policy changes to address the identified issues. They met three times over a six-week period and came up with several policy objectives:

  • Fair markets: The four largest meatpackers control 80% of the beef slaughter industry. Obviously, more competition in the meatpacking industry could lead to a more competitive marketplace and increase prices to cattle producers.
  • Truth in labeling: If a mandatory labeling system existed, similar to “Country-of-Origin Labeling” that once existed, there would be no more concern about loopholes like the ones that currently allow consumer deception with “Product of U.S.A” labeling.
  • Increase local and regional slaughter capacity: Although North Dakota cattle producers care for approximately 1.83 million beef cattle and calves, only 8,800 are commercially slaughtered in our state each year. Meat inspection regulations are overly burdensome, causing many ranchers to ship their cattle to processors outside of our state. If meat inspection regulations were relaxed, more cattle could be slaughtered in our state which would lead to more marketing opportunities for producers.
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The livestock committee came up with several other policy solutions. If enacted, the solutions could financially benefit our state’s dedicated cattlewomen and cattlemen. The policy suggestions will be difficult to enact if North Dakota consumers do not get behind their friends and neighbors who make a living raising cattle. If you care about any of these issues, please provide support in any way you can. Reach out to our congressman and senators. Consider joining a group of people dedicated to making changes which will benefit family farmers, ranchers and the American consumer, such as NDFU.

Stafslien, Jamestown, is director of the North Dakota Farmer's Union District 3.

He is a district director for ND Farmers Union