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Looking back at beef news in 2018

Progressive Cattleman staff editors Published on 24 November 2018
Looking back at 2018

How did the beef industry fare in news headlines in 2018? Many of the top stories related to ranching, beef production and agricultural land use had direct ties to the policies of President Donald Trump and his administration.

Others were linked to developments overseas and in economic markets.

Here were the top stories, in no particular order, as chosen by Progressive Cattleman editors.

NAFTA deal becomes USMCA

NAFTA, the trade agreement that has been in force across North America for almost 25 years, is getting a facelift. After several rounds of rigorous negotiations between Mexico, Canada and U.S. officials, a “modernized” trade agreement was agreed on by Canada on Sept. 30, as the U.S. and Mexico came to terms earlier in the summer.

All three countries must still formally approve the new deal; Congress will begin discussions on the USMCA in 2019. Until then, NAFTA will remain in effect.

The biggest terms:

  • Canada has agreed to give the U.S. more access to its dairy market. This particular capitulation upset Canadian dairy producers and will likely remain a sore subject in future trade talks.

  • The U.S. agreed to withhold tariffs on automobiles in exchange for automakers agreeing to build the greater portion of a car in North America, along with higher wages for workers in order to avoid higher penalties when crossing the border.

  • The USMCA will expire in 16 years if it hasn’t been actively renewed or renegotiated. The countries will meet again in six years to decide whether to continue to the 16-year mark or renegotiate.

China trade wars escalate

The Trump administration’s tit-for-tat tariff wars with China ruled the headlines in 2018. The ever-increasing rounds of tariffs took effect July 6, and have yet to stabilize. The increasing tariffs played havoc on many U.S. crops, especially soybeans, leaving U.S. producers to scramble to find other markets for their crops.

U.S. beef is also caught in the crosshairs of U.S.-China negotiations. When China lifted its 14-year ban on U.S. beef in 2017, producers and economic experts were eager to take advantage of the broadened market in Asia, but the volatile trade talks left those opportunities on shaky ground. Beef products were among the first hit, with China placing increased tariffs on $170 million worth of U.S. beef products.

As of early November, the Trump administration was prepared to place tariffs on all remaining Chinese imports if the November talks between the president and China’s President Xi JinPing fail. That could amount to tariffs on $257 billion, according to a Bloomberg report.

WOTUS lives again

The EPA issued a two-year delay on the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS) in January to provide time for a rewrite of the rule, inciting a flurry of lawsuits from various environmental groups. In August, a federal judge in South Carolina ruled in favor of the claims made by several groups that the EPA violated the Administrative Procedures Act and did not allow sufficient time for public comment.

A federal court in North Dakota issued a preliminary injunction against implementation of WOTUS, protecting 13 states, in August 2015. A Georgia federal court did the same for 11 more states in June 2018. The South Carolina judge’s ruling made WOTUS effective in the other unprotected states.

A district court in Texas issued a temporary injunction in September, protecting Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi from WOTUS.

As of press time for this article, WOTUS remains in effect in Iowa, Illinois, California, Washington, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Hawaii, Delaware and Connecticut.

Checkoff injunctions

Litigation made against the national beef checkoff and its partners in several states gained ground in 2018, and doesn’t appear to have any near resolution.

A lawsuit filed by Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) two years ago earned a 2018 victory in a federal court when the judge said the Montana Beef Council was a private entity, making its portion of the checkoff dollar legally invalid.

Thirteen other states saw legal challenges arise in a similar fashion and want the courts to halt money going to state beef councils.

Fake meat oversight

The arrival of cell-cultured protein, grown in a petri dish and made available for human consumption, is looming in U.S. markets. And to get out in the lead, U.S. regulatory agencies began disputing which one will have key oversight.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) jumped ahead in the summer with a unilateral public meeting on the issue, leaving out the USDA. Protein producers cried foul, leading to a truce in the late debate of oversight.

That led to joint USDA and FDA public meetings in late October on cell-cultured proteins with their hazards and oversight considerations. One key issue is labeling, and whether such proteins deserve the term beef, fish, poultry or pork.

FDA and USDA leaders were confident an oversight framework could emerge in 2019.

Higher exports stay strong

Beef sales to international markets continued to soar in 2018, in both value and volume metrics. From January through August 2018, the total amount of beef exported hit 899,300 metric tons, up 9 percent from the 2017 totals. Value of beef exported in that period jumped 18 percent to $5.5 billion.

During those months, exports were 13.5 percent of total beef production, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, with the value of exports being more than $320 per head. Asian markets continued to be the hot spots, with continuing access to Mexico and Canada adding to the strong totals.

Presidential pardon releases two ranchers from prison

Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven are back at the family ranch after a full pardon from President Donald Trump released them from a southern California federal prison in July.

The Hammonds were imprisoned after a drawn-out legal battle with the federal government after two fires started on their property leaked onto a small section of neighboring BLM ground – one in 2001 to fight invasive species that burned 139 acres of public grazing land, and another in 2006 to protect against a wildfire that burned a single acre of public land.

The mandatory minimum sentence for the anti-terrorism charges the Hammonds faced was five years in prison. At the time of their release, Dwight had served approximately three years in prison and Steven had served approximately four. They had also paid $400,000 to settle a civil suit from the federal government.

Senate passes one-year ELD extension

After much debate, livestock haulers received another extension from Congress to delay the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate until Sept. 30, 2019, before it can be permanently repealed.

The current hours-of-service rules would require truck drivers to turn on the ELDs that track their driving times and distances after surpassing the 150 air-mile radius from their loading point. As the rules stand, after activating their ELDs, truckers would only be able to drive for 11 hours before taking a mandatory 10-hour break.

Pro-ag leaders anticipate the one-year ELD extension to be the final delay needed to secure final passage of the Transporting Livestock Across America Safely (TLAAS) Act introduced earlier this year. The TLAAS Act would grant livestock haulers the flexibility needed to transport animals safely and as quickly as possible.  end mark

Written by Progressive Cattleman editors David Cooper, Cassidy Woolsey and Carrie Veselka.