By Robert E. McKnight, Jr., president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
2019 has brought its share of trials and tribulations for cattle producers, but we also have a lot to be grateful for.
Our year at Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association started quickly. The 86th Texas Legislative Session convened Jan. 8 and ran until May 27. Like the year in general, it had its share of ups and downs. A few elected officials stopped the association’s effort to protect property owners from abusive eminent domain practices. One of them, Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland, proudly proclaimed that his hometown would build a statue in his honor for killing the legislation that would have provided transparency, fairness and accountability for millions of Texas.
Even with the eminent domain loss, numerous other beneficial laws were passed. Forced annexation was abolished, property taxes were reformed, and other improvements were made for water permitting, rural connectivity, hunting and wildlife management and more.
Thanks to the work of our volunteer leaders, government and public affairs staff in Austin, and good friends in the Texas Legislature, many positive things happened that will benefit cattle producers for years to come.
We also won significant victories at the national level, in large part due to President Trump and his leadership at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Trade Representative and other agencies.
On the trade front, we have secured a landmark deal with Japan that will allow competitive access for U.S. beef. We’re also on the verge of a new trade deal with China, which could allow U.S. beef producers significantly better access to their more than 1.3 billion consumers. Closer to home, an agreement to replace NAFTA was struck with Mexico and Canada, who each buy a billion dollars of U.S. beef every year. Looking forward, we must secure congressional passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and continue to expand market access for our beef across the globe.
Oppressive regulations were also rolled back over the past year.
One of the highlights was the final repeal of the egregious land grab known as WOTUS. The move by EPA officials put an end to five years of court battles and unpredictable regulations so we can finally get back to the business of raising beef. The administration still needs to replace the rule, so we must remain diligent in ensuring the replacement is fair and easily understood by property owners.
Elsewhere, the Department of Transportation extended exemptions for livestock haulers concerned with hours-of-service regulations and the rollout of electronic logging devices. Legislative fixes were also introduced to permanently correct hours-of-service rules that jeopardize the health and safety of livestock.
Fake meat, both the plant-based and lab-grown varieties, also took center stage for much of 2019.
Purveyors of the new products got a lot of media attention with bold claims about health and environmental benefits, but the focus has shifted in recent months. The real facts about these products have started to emerge in mainstream media thanks to groups like TSCRA. The health benefits of highly processed, plant-based meat substitutes have been largely discredited, and the claims of environmental benefits have also started to come into question as more independent research is released.
In Washington, beef producers secured a victory when USDA and the Food and Drug Administration agreed on a framework to regulate lab-grown meat products. A lot of work is still needed, but it is an important step to have USDA in charge of developing labeling and grading standards for new lab-grown products. Legislation has also been introduced at both state and federal levels to combat advertising and packaging that tries to mislead consumers.
At Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, our leaders and staff will remain very engaged on the fake meat issue to ensure that beef can compete on a level playing field and that consumers know what they’re buying.
There have been other highs and lows, but all in all, it has been a good year for cattle producers on the policy front.
As we gather with family and friends for the holidays ahead, I hope you will join me in thanking all the organizations and individuals who joined TSCRA over the past year in fighting to protect and improve the lives of cattle producers and property owners.
Many challenges lie ahead, but I am confident that together we can and will overcome them with the same grit and determination we have shown over the past centuries.