R-CALF USA’s Position Regarding U.S. Senate’s Efforts to Improve Food Safety
by Max Thornsberry, President of the Board of Directors, R-CALF
Part 1 of 3
Dear United States Senators:
R-CALF USA represents thousands of independent farmers and ranchers who raise and sell cattle and we appreciate your efforts to address the increased incidences of food-born illnesses that have recently plagued our nation. The frequent outbreaks of food-born illnesses reveal that the U.S. food system is now systemically and fundamentally flawed.
We are deeply concerned that Congress does not recognize the systemic and fundamental nature of our food safety problems and, therefore, is overlooking the problem’s root causes as it proceeds to enact remedial legislation. We urge the U.S. Senate to identify the root causes for our current food safety problems before joining with the U.S. House of Representatives to impose onerous conditions on independent U.S. farmers and ranchers that would give the government more control over such farmers and ranchers without achieving the food safety improvements that Congress seeks.
We have carefully reviewed the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R. 2749 or House Act) recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. We find that even though the House Act exempts our segment of the food industry by exempting livestock, farms that raise livestock, and meat products regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the House Act will exacerbate the nation’s food safety problems and damage all segments of the industry, including ours.
The House Act does not address or even acknowledge the root causes of our nation’s food safety problems. The House Act attempts to mitigate the increased incidences of food-born illnesses by expanding the failed components of our current food safety system. Instead of improving our food safety system, the House Act perpetuates current failures and hampers genuine food safety reform.
A. FOOD SAFETY PROBLEMS WILL PERSIST UNLESS CONGRESS ADDRESSES THEIR ROOT CAUSES
The root causes of our failed food safety system, as evidenced by the increased incidences of food-born illnesses during the past decade, are unique to the United States and are three-fold:
1. Current Food Policies Promote and Facilitate the Continued Consolidation and Contraction of Independent Farmers and Ranchers and This is Inherently Dangerous to Both Food Safety and Food Security.
The people whom for over a century have literally dedicated their lives and livelihoods to producing the safest, most wholesome food on the face of this earth have and are being systematically driven from their farms and ranches and replaced with industrialized production units that have an inherent propensity to cut food safety corners to maximize profits – all because our national food policy has long failed to recognize the invaluable contribution to food safety and food security made by independent farmers and ranchers.
Industrialized food production units have systematically eliminated independent farmers and ranchers by using food production methods that are unsound from the perspective of food safety. Specifically, these methods increase the likelihood that harmful contaminants will be introduced into food. As U.S. state and federal governments have tried to impose effective food safety standards, the industrial food producers have successfully lobbied for regulations that impose additional costs on all producers, including farmers and ranchers, but do not interfere with the industrial food producers’ ability to continue to use the unsound production practices which are the cause of the food safety problems in the first place.
The replacement of farmers and ranchers with industrialized production units is starkly exemplified by the ongoing trend in the number of U.S. livestock operations. Since 1980 the number of U.S. hog operations has declined 90 percent, from 667,000 to 64,760 operations; the number of U.S. dairy operations has declined by 80 percent, from 335,270 to 67,000 operations; and the number of beef cattle operations has declined by 53 percent, from 1.3 million to 757,000 operations. In addition, the number of cattle feedlots likewise has declined, resulting in the ever-increasing concentration of the feeding segment of the live cattle industry. Since 1996, the U.S. lost 25,000 small farmer-feeders – those with feedlot capacities of less than 1,000 head. During this same period, the number of large feedlot operations with capacities of over 50,000 head increased by 29 percent.
Adding any additional regulatory burdens and costs on independent U.S. farmers and ranchers without first correcting the failed national polices that are driving these independent farmers and ranchers out of business at an alarming rate would be woefully irresponsible and would immediately put food safety and food security for U.S. citizens in serious jeopardy. The unabated consolidation and contraction of independent farmers and ranchers in the U.S. is inherently dangerous to our food supply and food security as is now clearly evidenced by increased incidences of food-born illnesses.
Continue to Part 2 here
Max Thornsberry, D.V.M., is R-CALF USA’s President of the Board of Directors and Region VI Director. Dr. Thornsberry and his wife Brenda reside in Richland, Mo. Thornsberry is the owner and manager of TNT Cattle Co., a certified feeder calf preconditioning enterprise, as well as Avanco Feeds, a veterinary and nutrition firm that serves beef, dairy, swine and companion animal owners in central Missouri.
Thornsberry has a B.S. in Agriculture and a minor in Chemistry from the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture. In 1977, Thornsberry received his D.V.M. from University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In 1992, Thornsberry acquired his M.B.A. at California Coast University in Santa Ana, Calif.
Thornsberry is a past president of both the Missouri Stockgrower’s Association and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. He also is a current member of the Academy of Veterinary Consultants and the American Veterinary Medical Association, among other organizations throughout the country.
R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALF USA directors and committee chairs are extremely active unpaid volunteers. R-CALF USA has dozens of affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.