This column marks the start of the seventh year I’ve been privileged to write for BEEF about the industry. I don’t recall how Editor Joe Roybal and I came up with the moniker “Meat Matters,” but we knew we wanted something catchy. What later became apparent is that the column would explore all manner of industry issues, as well as reminding people of the importance of the industry to the economy, and of beef to Americans’ well-being.
The beef industry’s contribution to the economy is colossal. It literally keeps people on the land in a way no other sector of agriculture does. The hundreds of thousands of ranching families are the epitome of family farming in the U.S. They dominate the cow-calf sector and are responsible for most of the 33 million beef calves produced each year. In contrast, hog production has 10 times fewer participants, and some of these are large corporate entities such as Smithfield Foods.
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Ranching families are the backbone of many rural communities, from Hawaii to Maine, and have been since this country was founded. One of the saddest aspects of the recent battle over cattle on Bureau of Land Management lands is that the cattle were there sometimes 100 years ago — and in most cases, the cattle have enhanced the condition of the land. Just imagine the number of grass fires that would erupt if cattle were removed from public lands in the West.
Families also dominate the stocker sector and ownership of livestock markets. The latter are often passed from one generation to another and provide a social role for cattle people and others in the community that is just as important as the local coffee shop.
The cattle-feeding sector has more corporate-type owners, but even here there are many family-owned businesses. Both types, incidentally, have bought cattle from the same producers for many years. The production side is thus far more functionally integrated than many imagine.
The beef and wider meat industry at the processing and further processing levels also contributes enormously. It employs several million people and puts tens of billions of dollars into federal, state and local coffers. A meat plant is often the largest employer in town and supports many local businesses.
The beef industry also contributes significantly to the U.S. balance of trade. The U.S. last year exported a record $6.16 billion worth of beef cuts and variety meats.
Meat, or specifically beef, matters in another way — by providing Americans with high-quality, safe and extremely nutritious protein. The industry, primarily through the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) and producers’ checkoff dues, has done a terrific job in recent years to dispel the myths about beef in the diet and to promote its importance and value.
The nutrition section of CBB’s website is packed with great information for consumers. For example, it says: “At approximately $1 per serving, beef provides 10 essential nutrients our body needs, like zinc, iron, protein and B vitamins. For about 150 calories, a 3-oz. serving of lean beef provides about the same amount of protein as three servings (1½ cups) of cooked black beans with 341 calories.” I’ve eaten black beans for years, but had no idea I’d have to eat so many in relation to a tiny piece of beef.
As for “matters” as they relate to issues, it’s no coincidence that my first column was about country-of-origin labeling (COOL). I have returned to the topic often because it remains one of the most unwarranted issues that the industry has had to deal with. Yet, it seems the most difficult to resolve. Maybe a World Trade Organization decision against the U.S., and Canada and Mexico being allowed to proceed with more than $1.5 billion of retaliatory tariffs, will spur all participants in this sorry saga to find a solution.
Steve Kay is editor and publisher of Cattle Buyers Weekly (www.cattlebuyersweekly.com). See his weekly cattle market roundup each Friday afternoon at beefmagazine.com.
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