Do Beef Imports Harm American Ranchers?


united states beef market prices imports exports country of origin labelingMuch discussion is being had about beef imports and welfare of American ranchers thanks in part to a recent video from an internet and cable news personality, Tomi Lahren on The Blaze. While some cattlemen and women believe they should throw their full support behind Tomi Lahren because she’s bringing the discussion to the table, I’m not always a fan of all press being good publicity, especially when it places doubt and/or fear behind our product. Even if just a segment of a product, it can have the effect of driving customers away from purchasing any of our product.

Please, stop with the fear of foreign products and markets. This type of lobbying is no better than any other fear-fueled marketing. We need to be aware of how infighting comes across to outside audiences.

Feel free to debate the issues, but please bring more to the table than heated emotion. There are many business points that come with this discussion and I offer a few resources below to be more informed on the conversation.

Why does the US have beef imports and exports?

“Economists and industry leaders believe that trade must be a two-way street. In that regard, the U.S. beef industry is profiting when comparing imports and exports… As for the “growing tide” of imported beef some claim, the long-term trends don’t support such allegations. The U.S. will import about 3 billion pounds of beef in 2016, which would be nearly 3% less than the 3.085 billion pounds imported a decade ago. ” – Beef Imports Not the Culprit, Drovers

Want to learn more about how much beef the US imports/exports and which countries that meat comes from or goes to? The US Meat Export Federation is a good place to start for statistics on US beef exports. The USDA’s Economic Research Service also provides information on Livestock and Meat International Trade Data.

Is removal of COOL to blame for lower cattle prices?

The US once had in place a law mandating the labeling of food products with the Country of Origin. The World Trade Organization deemed this as unfair according to international Free Trade Agreements, and the US removed the regulations making COOL mandatory for some products. We’re still free to label our meat with COOL voluntarily.

Should consumers have a right to know where their food comes from? Sure! Origin isn’t their only, or always primary concern. Taste, Convenience, Safety and Price often rank up there in consumer purchasing decisions.

If consumers are willing to pay for it, there are branded beef programs available. If producers want to supply beef to those customers, they should enroll in respective branded beef and added-value programs to supply those markets.

“While it is conceptually possible that the repeal of MCOOL could adversely affect U.S. cattle prices, any actual effect appears to be quite small (if there is any effect at all).  The fact that cattle prices fell immediately after the repeal of MCOOL appears to be a coincidence.  The falling prices seem more to do with “normal” changes in supply resulting from the cattle cycle than anything to do with MCOOL.” – Agricultural Economist, Dr. Jayson Lusk, Oklahoma State University

Should we fear beef imports from other countries as being unsafe?

We don’t need a country of origin label to tell us whether or not beef is safe. All beef, foreign and domestic, is subject to inspection standards established by the USDA and FSIS.

“Foreign countries undergo a stringent review process before they become eligible to export meat, poultry, or egg products to the United States. Countries are not required to adopt an identical inspection system, rather they must have an equivalent one. The evaluation of a country’s inspection system to determine eligibility involves two steps: a document review and an on-site audit.” It’s worth taking time to become familiar with the FSIS Import Procedures for Meat, Poultry & Egg Products


best cuts of beef cheat sheetI won’t even begin to pretend this encompasses all aspects of this discussion surrounding the topics of debate. Not all solutions work for every producer or customer. However, I want to bring these links into one location after having been asked for resources in multiple conversations.

Feel free to have a debate on the topic, but at least be more informed with the information available. People can debate all day on what we think is happening in the industry, but emotion doesn’t make a business succeed.

Beef is a global commodity today, which means implications of demand and market price reach far beyond our own product. Having access to import and export markets in a manner that is respectful of our trading partners plays a crucial role in that process.

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this. It’s easy to get caught up in hype and believe something without actually doing the research. I know that Tomi meant well, but if American producers are going to help feed the world we need free trade.

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  2. I keep hearing free trade, but it seems like the USA 🇺🇸 is being hurt by all this meat that’s being shoved here. I keep hearing they are USDA inspected, but that doesn’t mean that they were feed proper safe food.

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  3. “Should we fear beef imports from other countries as being unsafe?

    We don’t need a country of origin label to tell us whether or not beef is safe. All beef, foreign and domestic, is subject to inspection standards established by the USDA and FSIS.

    “Foreign countries undergo a stringent review process before they become eligible to export meat, poultry, or egg products to the United States. Countries are not required to adopt an identical inspection system, rather they must have an equivalent one. The evaluation of a country’s inspection system to determine eligibility involves two steps: a document review and an on-site audit.” It’s worth taking time to become familiar with the FSIS Import Procedures for Meat, Poultry & Egg Products”

    Not only is this the most naive thing I have ever read, it is basically wishful thinking. Since it is virtually impossible to monitor the animals being raised, the produce being grown (who will be allowed to monitor these processes in a foreign country, and who will provide the manpower for the few that are allowed?) the 1% of the products that will be inspected will not be a great representation of what is actually being imported for US consumption.

    When you can PROVE to me that farm raised fish/poultry/beef are fed a clean and healthy diet, when you can PROVE to me that produce is not sprayed with chemicals that have been banned in the US for over 30 years, when you can PROVE to me that child labor and horrid working conditions are not used in the countries that the US imports these products from then AND ONLY THEN I might take my chances. However, since the USDA can’t even afford to hire enough inspectors to monitor what is grown and processed in the US I find it highly unlikely this agency will fund very many officials to work overseas.

    I, for one, will not be purchasing any food products WITHOUT a country of origin on the label as well as where it was processed and where it was packaged. If this limits my choices so be it. I will at least know what that beef/chicken/fish/hog ate, how it was handled and how/where it was processed. Since I try to buy locally, I have a pretty good idea it was treated humanely as well.

    Imports may be necessary, but so are certain standards. Until these can be guaranteed I don’t consider imported food safe to consume.

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  4. As an American living in Ireland working with their beef and dairy sector I get a whole other perspective. The Irish are miles ahead of the US on traceability and often on regulations (which is sometimes to their detriment). We are working on incorporating a DNA based registration system which would mean if you ate an Irish steak in New York or Singapore we could tell you every place that animal set hoof on in its lifetime, what meds it recieved, where and when it was slaughtered, and nearly anything else you want to know.
    This is all because most data goes to 1 of 2 places, the agriculture department or the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, and those systems are linked. I feel safer eating commercial beef here than I do anywhere else in the world.
    If the US were to implement a central database and require tagging of all animals it would be a huge step in the right direction.

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  5. In my opinion, more and more discussions became based mostly on emotion instead of facts during the last years. Some might even say that we live in a “post-truth era”.
    While it’s important to debate aspects from our daily life, it’s also important to not allow mass-media / social media to always create a conflict in our minds (domestic vs international, left vs right, inside vs outside etc).

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