From the Desk of Region XI Director, Kevin Escobar

(AUGUST 15, 2022) – What does the future of the cattle industry look like? As a Florida cattle producer this is an issue at the forefront of my mind. It has been estimated that 1200 people a day are moving into our state. To accommodate this rapid urban population growth, a sea of concrete and asphalt has sprung up across the land at an alarming rate. The landscape is changing faster than ever, but where does that leave the cattle industry and the future of our food source? This is a national security issue, in and of itself, and we must be ready to fight.
Throughout history we can see in precise detail, how the industry has changed, and each time the question was asked, “Is this the end”? From the late 1800’s and the end of the cattle drive era and the railroads connecting one end of the country to the next, the invention of barbed wire and the end of the open range, to screw worms and dip vats and most recently packer consolidation. These are just a few of the issues cattle producers have faced over the last 150 years and each has come with its own challenges and fears of “the end”.
There have always been obstacles to overcome and there are new challenges on the horizon that we’ve yet to face or are unaware of. It’s my belief that cattle producers are a unique group of people, that have an inherent will to succeed that surpasses all others and that will is what keeps this industry alive. This inherent will to thrive keeps our industry fiercely competitive, and in turn, keeps our individual operations alive and profitable from one generation to the next. Yet, it’s our willingness to work together to overcome challenges from outside the industry, challenges designed to divide and separate us and ultimately draw our attention away from the greater issues, that will be the difference maker. The enemies of the cattle industry have learned that the only way that they can beat us is to divide us and watch us fight amongst ourselves. Only by ignoring our common enemies that seek to divert our attention from the real threats, will we see the end of the cattle industry in this great nation.
It is my sincere belief and the reason I took the time to write this, that we need to set aside our differences and focus our collective attention on the real threats, which I will expand on below. Our ability to overcome outside challenges will be the difference between a healthy, food secure nation – and one that is not.
Freedom is the most important right we have in this country. Freedom to choose our religious or political beliefs, freedom to choose how and where we spend our money, freedom to choose our own values, and freedom to choose what we eat. We make our decisions on food products based on the information available to us. Most commonly, we rely on what’s printed on package labeling to make an informed decision. Therefore, truth in labeling is vital to our freedom of choice.
Cattle producers, at every level of the industry, work tirelessly to provide the highest quality meat protein to consumers. Roughly 2% of the population is feeding the world and year after year, we have found a way to continue to make improvements in quality and availability. Whether the consumer likes grain finished or grass finished beef, purchasing from their favorite grocery chain or a local producer supplying direct-to-consumer beef, each and every cattle producer is doing their part with the consumer’s best interest in mind. In addition, Cattle producers have used management practices for over 100 years that benefit the environment. Today we recognize them as sustainable management practices that allow grazing lands to absorb more carbon, filter more rainfall and water runoff, produce more photosynthesis and protect wildlife habitat.
Labeling foods that are not animal products as being more environmentally friendly is simply not true. Labeling products that do not come from animals as “meat” is simply false advertising. The issue of Plant based foods, and as recently reported in the news, cell cultured products as “meat”, is an attack on the American consumers right to freedom of choice. There are laws at both state and federal level that make deceptive claims illegal. Yet, we find ourselves having to fight to protect the very nature and integrity of the healthy food source we provide. Why? As a strong supporter of the Agriculture community in the United States, I appreciate the contributions that farmers of wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans, sugar and many others, grow for our food supply. We need those food sources as well but the false labeling and packaging of compounded ingredients as “meat” is the issue at hand. Allowing manufactured products to manipulatively apply the term “meat” to their packaging would be a grave disservice to consumers seeking truthful, accurate label information in order to make an informed decision.
Reports show that the plant based category has more than doubled in the United States in recent years, rising by 148% from 2019 to 2020 alone. An expert projection has the plant based category growing to a $252 billion market by 2030. Make no mistake, these are not your parents’ veggie burgers. These newer, flashier, cell-cultured products have attempted to replicate the flavor profile, texture and eating experience of real meat.
Cell-cultured products take the cells of living animals, place them on an artificial-yet-edible skeleton-mimicking structure, baste them in a serum of hormones, vitamins and extracellular vesicles required for cell growth, and then propagate them in a laboratory to create a product that they will attempt to label as “meat”. Does that sound like meat to you?
Cell Cultured products are being touted as more humane and environmentally friendly as they could require a smaller carbon footprint to produce. I challenge that statement, as I outlined the environmental benefits that cattle production provides versus the industrial complexity it will require to make a single cell cultured food product. Cell Cultured food is not commercially available in the United States today, but experts are projecting it to be a price comparable product on the shelves by 2025. It’s been reported that this is a game changer and a “significant disruption” to the traditional meat market. They will advertise this food product as real meat because it came from “real animals”.
Reports show that in 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture reached an agreement to regulate cell based products jointly, safely and properly labeled. The problem is that they are in fact labeling this new product as “meat”.
There is an irony that is being overlooked by many: eating meat has been deemed bad for our health by a number of chefs, dietitians, celebrities, doctors and at times, even our own U.S. Government. Yet, these same people desire to provide a food source that intends to genetically mirror a piece of beef in color, flavor and texture but it was never born, raised and harvested. A more concerning aspect of this is that a large segment of protein needed for our personal growth and development would not be able to be grown by you or I. This is an attack on our freedom of food supply. Ask yourself this question: why is there such a drive to have a food product on the market that is designed in every way to appear as something it is not, yet, market it as if it were and make it so we can not produce it ourselves? I believe this is the kind of threat and common enemy we can all agree on.
I recently had the opportunity to meet and speak with current National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Don Schiefelbein at the Florida Cattlemen’s convention in June. During our conversation, I learned that we had the same opinion on the many topics we discussed. When I mentioned it, he too agreed that most cattlemen see eye-to-eye on at least 90% of the issues. We all live in a town with a Baptist church, a Methodist, Non Denomination, etc.. Theology is what separates us but we all believe we are going to end up in Heaven.
We continued dialogue over the last couple months, agreeing that we needed to be leaders in the industry and show that we are fighting for the same issues, that everyone needs to work together towards our common goals and against our common enemies.
Taking a quote from Don, “We need, as leaders, to find common ground on the 90% plus issues that will likely determine our long-term fate and avoid the death trap of wedge issues that places our industry groups in the circular firing squad where we inflict damage to each other as our enemies gleefully watch. Just as my father reminds our family, our industry needs to heed that same advice: The only way we lose is by attacking each other BUT if we stand together united, we are unstoppable.”
Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” I believe an industry divided against itself, too, cannot stand.
Regardless of organization or association, we must unite and find common ground to fight together to protect the life that we love, and for many, the heritage that we want to pass on. The next generation is already here. I challenge you, not to solely focus on issues within the cattle industry but the issues that surround us, the issues that are inherently and expressly designed to attack the very nature of our industry and the value we provide to the consumer. I encourage you to have an open minded discussion with a fellow cattle producer that you don’t agree with and set aside issues you may not see eye-to-eye on. Find the issues that you do agree on. It will all come down to you and me, not the acronyms, the associations or committees. We are what makes the committees, we are the difference between the past and future of the cattle industry and it is up to us as individual producers to protect our love, our heritage, our legacy and our freedom.
Kevin Escobar
E Bar Cattle Company
Region XI Director (Florida and Georgia)
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association