Conservative political commentator Tomi Lahren is speaking out about Country-of-Origin-Labeling again. Lahren, a native South Dakotan, currently hosts Tomi for TheBlaze on line. In her recent “Final Thoughts” commentary, she reiterated her view point that the elimination of COOL is detrimental to the American rancher.
But what are the facts behind her statements?
“Four meat packing companies control 83% of the industry.”
Half-true: While four major packing companies slaughter and process 83% of the fed cattle, 95% of cattle are still born and raised on family farms. Packing companies aren’t in control of the production or feeding of those cattle.
“Between 1980 and 2008, 516,000 beef cattle operations, of about 40%, folded.”
False: According to USDA Agriculture Census data, beef cattle operations have decreased, but not by nearly that much. While the total number of beef cattle operations in 1977 was 954,360 and fell to 727,906 in 2012, the decrease in that time period is 226,455, a 23.7% decrease.
Going closer to Lahren’s date range, the amount of beef cattle operations decreased 192,714 between 1982 and 2007, a 20% decrease.
But is the absence of COOL or packing plants to blame? Neither really.
An aging agricultural population is a major contributor to the decreasing number of operations. Farmers and ranchers are aging, with the average farmer age increasing from 50.1 to 58.3 between 1977 and 2012, and fewer young people are choosing to return to the family farm or begin farming. The chart below shows the relationship with aging farmers and the declining amount of beef cattle operations.
Also partially responsible is the changing state of machinery and farm size. Farms are increasingly larger for farmers to maintain the same income rate. Improved machinery and technology allows farmers to work more and more ground and maintain more animals.
Farmers are also becoming more and more specialized. Gone are the days when every farmer had crops and cattle and hogs and some chickens out back. Now most choose a sector of the industry to focus on and the diversification within farms has declined.
“From 1980 to 2010…nearly a third of all feeders, the companies that purchase cattle from those ranchers, left the industry.”
Half-true: Since 1997, the number of feedlots has dropped substantially. Feedlots have seen a 68.4% drop since 1997, falling from 43,469 to 13,734. However, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. In past years, 1997 and earlier, the number of farmer-feeders who fed out their own cattle, registering as “feeders,” was much higher, especially in times of high corn or oil prices. As prices dropped, the number of farmer-feeders fell with it.
Since COOL’s original implementation in 2002 and its expansion in 2008, it’s been a hotly debated topic within the agriculture industry. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has fought against COOL, citing the costs it put on the industry because it violated trade agreements, thus putting the cost of added tariffs on the American beef industry. NCBA released the following video disputing Lahren's statements.
However, R-CALF USA, like Lahren, has spoken out in favor of COOL and giving consumers the option to buy American beef. Lahren even hosted R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard on her show to discuss the future of American beef.
What do you think? Is COOL the answer for the future of the beef industry?