By Cynthia Lummis, former Wyoming Congresswoman and current U.S. Senate candidate
These past few weeks friends have sent along heartbreaking videos of dairy farmers dumping out truckloads of milk while a recent analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation shows crop and livestock prices tanking, leaving farmers and ranchers teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Margins in production agriculture are razor thin in the best of times, these times are testing the mettle of every farmer and rancher.
This is an inflection point for America across industries. This is the point at which we tip toward putting America First or we tip back into the old habits of underselling the value of essential goods produced for Americans by Americans.
Stuck at home, many Americans are returning to the essentials. Cooking more. DIY-ing more. Gardening more. And rediscovering the resources available in our own backyards, or just down that long dirt road.
DC should look to states – particularly in times like this – distilling out the best policies for national adoption: Solutions that make life as we know it better, easier, and more sustainable in times of trouble.
States are the incubators of great ideas. And, in agriculture, Wyoming has hatched an inspired solution to address market manipulation and price gouging while improving access to healthy food.
Wyoming’s Food Freedom Act is a five-year old law, the brainchild of Wyoming House Whip Tyler Lindholm. It allows Wyoming people to buy things like eggs, cheese, milk, and home canned goods from local sellers without the layers of bureaucratic approval that raise costs and disconnect consumers from the land and people responsible for producing their food.
Since passage, the Food Freedom Act has been amended several times to increase the types of food sales that are covered under the law. This year Rep. Lindholm teamed up with fellow rancher State Senator Brian Boner, to pass a unique addition to the Food Freedom Act.
The animal share amendment to the Food Freedom Act allows consumers to buy an ownership stake in an animal or herd of critters. Once raised, finished and processed the consumer is entitled to a share of the meat. And that animal need not be processed at a USDA facility. The animal share agreement allows individuals to come to an agreement on price and processing that is agreeable to both parties, (and bippity-boppity-boo) no government intervention required.
Wyoming is the first state to make this animal shares agreement legal. What a great way to get people reconnected to their food, not to mention a promising revenue source for local farmers, ranchers and small private meat processors.
To achieve what the Food Freedom Act is accomplishing locally at the national level, we must get government out of the way.
US Senator Mike Rounds, our neighbor in South Dakota, recently sent a letter to President Trump asking him to help do just that by allowing Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for American beef and pork. Since the repeal of COOL standards for beef and pork (while country of origin labeling remains in place for other food products), American producers have lost the ability to tell their story and connect with consumers.
Americans want to know where their food comes from and America’s farmers and ranchers are proud to feed our people with healthy food grown on American soil. That’s just common sense. It’s good for our health, our food, and our ranchers’ survival.
Not long after coronavirus passes, there will be those who want to sweep the pain of this period under the rug. And while we should all look forward to getting America up and running at full steam, we must not lose the lessons learned from this unprecedented time.
In agriculture, some of the takeaways for policymakers are becoming clear:
- Now is the time to reconnect people with the food on their plates by offering more direct-to-consumer sales avenues.
- We must put Americans First, producers and consumers, by expanding Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) standards to include beef and pork.
- The food supply chain needs a thorough review to protect consumers and producers alike from price gouging and market manipulation by middlemen.
I love Paul Harvey’s famous poem ‘So God made a farmer’ (it always makes me think of my dad, the consummate rancher), but right now big government is keeping the God-fearing family farmer and rancher down.
The silver-lining is that coronavirus illuminates the importance of promoting, supporting and investing in production agriculture and securing the domestic food supply.
From farm to fork, or ranch to ribeye, now is the time to cut the bureaucratic fat out of our food system and allow American producers and consumers to come to the dining room table together again.
A fourth generation Wyoming native, Cynthia Lummis currently operates her family ranch in Laramie County with her brother and sister. From 2008 to 2016, she served as Wyoming’s lone Congressman in Washington, D.C. She is currently running for the U.S. Senate in Wyoming.