Utah rancher asks Mike Pence to prevent a crisis for lamb producers in the West
Foreign company says it will only handle beef, leaving sheep ranchers with nowhere to send lambs
SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah sheep rancher is seeking intervention from the Trump administration and help from the Utah congressional delegation to stop the pending closure of a Colorado processing plant that handles more than 300,000 lambs from 15 Western states.
“I cannot express the urgency and the dire conditions my family and our fellow ranch families will find themselves in a matter of weeks and months,” wrote Carson Jorgensen, a Mt. Pleasant sixth-generation rancher. “We will be forced out of business and our herds will not be replaced. The lamb market in the U.S. will rely almost exclusively on more and more foreign products, foreign imports and foreign supply chains.”
Jorgensen sent the letter to Vice President Mike Pence late Sunday and also distributed it to Utah’s congressional delegation, Gov. Gary Herbert’s office, and Logan Wilde, Utah’s agriculture commissioner. The Utah Attorney General’s Office may also be looking into the matter.
The letter was prompted by the bankruptcy acquisition of Mountain States-Rosen by Brazilian owned JBS USA, which has been under investigation for price fixing and in the crosshairs of several congressional members for questionable transactions — one of which led to a plea deal after company officials admitted they used bribery to secure loans for its first U.S. plant acquisition in 2007.
We will be forced out of business and our herds will not be replaced. The lamb market in the U.S. will rely almost exclusively on more and more foreign products, foreign imports and foreign supply chains.” — Carson Jorgensen, sixth-generation rancher
The Washington Post reported that the company used the loans and other funding to consolidate five U.S. companies — which produced pork, poultry and beef — into a single company, JBS USA.
The Brazilian company, which is the largest meat producer in the world, has said it will no longer process lambs at the recently acquired plant in Greeley, Colorado, but instead will focus purely on beef.
Jorgensen said that decision leaves tens of thousands of lambs that are ready for slaughter stranded in feedlots, as well as the hundreds of thousands of lambs that will be coming off summer ranges.
“Ranchers do not have the feed or resources to hold onto their annual production and there is simply nowhere to send their lambs,” he wrote. “The limited number of lamb plants are running at capacity and small, local processing plants will never be able to process the volume.”
Wilde said the situation is severe when it comes to the lamb industry.
“The sheep industry has taken a beating throughout the last six months. As a sheep producer myself, I understand deeply just how hard lamb producers throughout the state are being hit, now more than ever. We are actively working on solutions that will hopefully save and salvage the future of the sheep industry.”
Wilde, however, added that he is hopeful another processing plant will come online soon, which may help to alleviate the situation.
Jorgensen has also reached out to congressional representatives from Montana and Wyoming, as well as the latter state’s governor.
The vast majority of the U.S. meat industry is controlled by only a handful of companies, a consolidation that ranchers have complained about for years. Lamb producers are particularly undercut by their foreign competitors, including JBS, which Jorgensen said is one of the largest foreign importers bringing lamb into the United States.
Last fall, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., called on Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin to use the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to view the transactions of the meat processing company.
“The growing trend of foreign investment in our food system demands increased attention and scrutiny in order to safeguard our nation’s food supply,” the two wrote, according to a post from Food Safety News.
The two senators called out JBS for “bribery of public officials as a methodology to obtain funds that it then used for such acquisitions. ... Today, JBS S.A. is the world’s largest meat-processing company and has major holdings across the U.S. food sector.”
“These acquisitions have serious implications for the security, safety, and resiliency of our food system,” the senators said.
Jorgensen said this latest acquisition by JBS should be investigated to determine if it is a predatory effort to disrupt U.S. food production, and as it comes on top of an already struggling domestic food industry hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
JBS officials did not respond for comment, but in the past have told media the company is a vital link in the U.S. production of meat and that the company remains committed to transparency in its business transactions.
In his plea to Pence and other leaders, Jorgensen said he believes the severity of the situation merits President Donald Trump’s use of the Defense Protection Act, which is a Cold War-era law that allows the president to exercise emergency authority to control domestic industries.
“I believe this crisis rises to the level of the Trump Administration invoking the Defense Production Act. Our industry and others need time to assess the damage, understand the short- and long-term impacts, and determine a path forward. American consumers deserve a secure source of US-grown lamb. Time is of the essence,” he wrote. “Without immediate action, lamb production in the western United States will be destroyed. We must have time to solve this devastating crisis.”