Brett Kenzy believes the first step in fixing any problem is recognizing the problem first.
And with the beef industry, now that some consumers are now starting to feel the impact of a highly-concentrated beef processing market, the problem is getting recognized.
“It’s universally accepted now that we have a problem,” Kenzy told KELOLAND News. “We have to move forward on fixing it and I think we can.”
Kenzy, who runs a cattle operation in south-central South Dakota near Gregory, is the Region III Director for R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America), a lobbying organization for U.S. cattle and sheep producers.
More than a year ago when the start of the COVID-19 pandemic caused empty meat shelves at grocery stores, it led the Department of Justice to look into alleged price-fixing.
“That was our warning shot, that’s the first time our shelves went bare in my lifetime,” Kenzy said. “In America, we’ve become so spoiled that everything was just gonna be there.”
Two weeks ago, President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order, ordering the United States Department of Agriculture and the Federal Trade Commission to look for ways to improve the food chain for producers.
Biden’s EO can be found on the White House’s website and it calls for new rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act, new rules defining when meat can bear “Product of USA” labels, develop a plan to increase opportunities for farmers to access markets and encourage the FTC to limit powerful equipment manufacturers from restricting people’s ability for do-it-yourself repairs.
“We’re glad to see the executive order,” Kenzy said. “Anti-trust, I feel, is the ultimate fix. It’s been a hundred years since the Packers and Stockyard Act of 1921. It’s this generation’s turn to confront some of these things and look at markets.”
For Kenzy and the R-CALF organization, mandatory country-of-origin labeling, called MCOOL, was the start of the most-recent problems. Congress repealed MCOOL after the World Trade Organization ruled Canada and Mexico could begin imposing more than $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. products for harm from labeling requirements.
In the beef industry, Kenzy said 26 plants process 80% of the beef in the USA for four main companies — JBS, Tyson, Cargill and National Beef.
“There’s a lot of money in the beef industry, it’s just about equitable distribution,” Kenzy said. “It’s exciting, but right now it’s more talk than action. We’re sure hoping that consumers call their Congressmen, that producers continue to call their Congressmen.”
Along with Biden EO, USDA announced $500 million in expanding meat and poultry processing capacity and there’s future Congressional hearings on the calendar starting next week.
Kenzy said the steps are welcomed, but he wants more action from consumers and producers.
“It’s really on us, common people,” Kenzy said. “It’s about getting after it and keeping after it; figuring out what’s right.”