Nearly 30 million acres of US agricultural land is owned by foreign investors. Kenny Graner, the President of the United States Cattlemen Association explains, “Once Americans lose out on that capacity – whether it be land, feedlots, meat processing facilities, or other resources – we may never have the opportunity to buy it back. In short, the growing trend of foreign interests acquiring US agricultural resources jeopardizes the ability of our nation to feed itself. In our view, this is a direct threat to our democracy.”
Following Marfrig’s 2020 acquisition resulting in the Brazilian meat behemoth now owning 80% of National Beef, The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association asked the Treasury to review this foreign investment. In a letter addressed to the Treasury Secretary and Committee on Foreign Investment, they stated that the National Beef acquisition threatens American food security by opening the door for inferior quality meat from Brazil. The Cattlemen are adamantly pushing back against foreign ownership, consolidation, and fighting for what they see as a clear national security issue that could end up harming consumers.
Their quality and safety concerns aren’t without merit – in June 2017, the USDA banned imports of Brazilian processed beef after 11% of beef tested was rejected due to “public health concerns, sanitary conditions, and animal health issues.” Typically, no more than 1% of beef is rejected at U.S. points of entry. The USDA lifted the ban in 2020, and reported record imports of Brazilian beef, a 500% increase the two years following the lift of the ban. In 2021, China temporarily suspended Brazilian beef imports for a few months due to animal welfare concerns. Some of this Brazilian beef banned from China was redirected to the United States.
Foreign meat processors can raise and harvest meat overseas, import it into our country, have it undergo ‘significant transformation’ and label it as ‘Product of the USA.’ With consumers starting to demand more American made products, this misleading labeling is a huge problem. Thankfully, there’s been a recent call for action with a proposed amendment for the regulations surrounding voluntary labeling with regard to product origin. If passed, this would be a small step toward tackling the deceptive marketing tactics big meat employs against consumers.
When discussing foreign investment in American agriculture, China is a big part of the conversation. Tomorrow, we’ll dive deeper into the country’s investments in foreign agriculture that have increased more than tenfold since 2009.