As food prices continue to stay elevated, leaving many to spend too much money on over-processed and poor-quality groceries, food security should be at the top of everyone's minds. Luckily, some organizations are already working toward solutions. The United States Cattlemen's Association and the Beef Initiative are working on two fronts to set up fresh supply chains independent of industrial food. The Beef Initiative is doing this industrially, by creating a network of direct trade between producers and consumers, while the Cattlemen's Association works politically by lobbying in DC for the ability of independent ranchers to work and make a living.
CATTLEMEN IN THE CAPITAL
The United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) is a lobbying group in Washington, DC. Lia Biondo, Director of Outreach and Policy, explained that the American beef industry is in danger of becoming “completely vertical.” “It comes down to competition. Capitalism without competition is exploitation,” she states plainly. The problem, she expounds, is that there are essentially only four meat packaging companies operating in the country; two of which are based overseas. These are where the majority of the beef in our supermarket comes from—and it’s paid for before the cattle is even born.
That’s because today, nearly 80% of sales from beef producers to processors are “sweetheart deals” These are when the massive packaging company has a feedlot (think too many cows in one room, eating corn) and sign a contract where they essentially become a subsidiary of the packaging company. The company tells the feedlot what breed of cattle to buy, how to feed them, and how to keep them in order to produce the amount of meat they want and when. This not only floods the market with low-quality beef but pushes small ranchers out of business.
Less than twenty years ago, “sweetheart deals” made up under 50% of transactions. The rest were negotiated deals, where a rancher tells the packaging company what they can have by what day without compromising the quality of the beef. Such deals produce a more balanced market arising from supply and demand, where cattlemen get more income to supply natural beef as demand for it increases. Biondo warns that if the industry doesn’t quickly return to negotiations like this, “we’ll end up with a completely vertical industry,” meaning little to no economic competition for those four major packagers and no more independent ranches. The hog and chicken industries have already gone that way.
The industry has come to this point, she says, by way of strong lobbying from the North American Meat Institute (NAMI). In 2015, the NAMI successfully pushed to remove country-of-origin labeling from beef products. This meant that major packaging companies could now include lean South American beef with the more fat American beef and still label it a "Product of the USA." The USCA has been pushing against this with their own lobbying, attempting to get The Cattle, Price, and Discovery Act to the Congress floor. This act would operate on two levels: closing the “Product of the USA loophole,” and restoring country of origin labeling to where real USA beef would be labeled “Born, Raised, and Harvested in the USA.” They also hope to establish “very small to small” processing facilities of anywhere from one to five hundred employees, so ranchers across the country can have more opportunities to sell beef directly to the consumer.
The USCA invited Beef Initiative representatives to their fifteenth annual meeting in Nashville this past December. Biondo explained that while the USCA was mostly unfamiliar with the technology of Bitcoin, they appreciated how the Beef Initiative was such a “fervent and passionate group on social media” whose values aligned with the organization.
TECHNOLOGY FOR TRADITION
The Beef Initiative is an organization that connects cattle farmers and consumers directly, through a network designed and created by the two founders: Texas Slim and JP Valdez. Largely through the use of the decentralized cryptocurrency Bitcoin, The Beef Initiative seeks to disconnect modern America from “fiat food” — over processed, over industrialized, poor quality products that more and more Americans have to rely on each year— in favor of healthy, more local options directly from their producers.
They’ve begun this process by establishing a trade network of ranchers online, most of whom utilize Bitcoin for exchanges. Users around the country can simply search by location to connect directly with their local producer. The network they have designed is open source, meaning anyone can build a copycat of it for free. The intention is not to grow The Beef Initiative as a business, but to replicate the network so people across the globe with access to healthy, minimally processed food—and small independent ranchers can continue existing.
In conversation with Texas Slim, he revealed the three pillars of The Beef Initiative are as follows:
- Saving children’s lives. With the way that our food is increasing in price and decreasing in quality, there is a definite need to focus on setting up something better for future generations.
- Shaking rancher’s hands. The entire system is founded upon the needs and requests of ranchers by giving him “a voice that he hasn’t had in over fifty years.”
- Education. The Beef Initiative concentrates much of its efforts on simply informing the public of what is being done in industrialized food and how simple it can be to eat well affordably.
Bitcoin’s incorporation into the Beef Initiative system is driven by its alignment with their core principle of decentralization. It’s “like water coming down a mountain,” he explains. “You don’t know where it’s going to go. You can’t stop it, it’s moving.” As the Bitcoin blockchain (the transaction ledger) is not maintained by any one power but instead by an untraceable system of users, it is the only truly decentralized cryptocurrency. There is no Bitcoin Headquarters; no single Bitcoin leader.
Slim also draws parallels between the Proof-of-Work verification system used in the Bitcoin blockchain and the tangible proof of work that results from hardworking food producers around the country, stating that both only show as much as they have done. “Farmers put proof of work into stewarding the land,” he notes.
He feels that Bitcoin is the equal to his grandfather’s culture of relationships and handshakes in the digital age. There are no transaction fees, only a number for an amount in a direct trade. “You can do peer to peer across the globe, or be standing in front of each other,” he states. Additionally, producers who work within the Beef Initiative and utilize Bitcoin always have the option to transfer Bitcoin to the United States Dollar in milliseconds. Slim believes that its use simply removes the pain and complication from transactions, leaving only “a relationship based on sound money.”
Ranchers and producers who wish to sign up and participate in the network only need to supply three things—name, location, and phone number—to start selling their products directly within their area. The Beef Initiative doesn’t even insist that farmers use Bitcoin for exchanges. They only offer it as an option, though many choose to utilize it. Slim allows the producers within his network to direct updates to the organization’s operation. “We’re going to let the ranchers and producers dictate us,” he affirms.
BRINGING GOOD FOOD TO EVERYONE
Slim’s constant analysis of economic and food trends in the United States drives him to constantly update and adapt The Beef Initiative to fix incoming issues he perceives. “People don’t realize that a lot of the United States is a food desert,” he explains. What this means is that when Slim drove forty thousand miles of backroads around the country, he saw a lot of small towns where people could only rely on a Walmart, a Dollar General, and a convenience store for all of their dietary needs.
While small towns used to be the main producers of food in the country, today more and more industry occurs around big cities. Slim believes the answer to this is going to be in reestablishing foodsheds—areas in which farmers, ranchers, and residents consume the food they produce. The Beef Initiative hopes to promote the further growth of foodsheds by making it easier for producers within its network (or copies of its network) to exist.
None of these efforts are based on judgments of the modern consumer. Slim simply declares, “We’re all participants, but you have a choice now.” Whatever one's model of consumption, they will eventually have to answer for it physically, mentally, and environmentally. And if not, their children will answer it for them. He encourages everyone to put their money where their lifestyle is going to be, bearing this in mind. And if you have no children and don’t even want any anyway? “Parents are busy,” he says. “You should be trying half as hard.”
The growth of the organization rests on his motto, “Grassroots and grass fed.” As more and more people become aware of the ubiquitous poison in our industrial food supply and the Beef Initiative reaches further with education regarding good food, more will come into the network. “The truth always wins,” he repeated throughout our conversation. “The timing of that truth is what people can’t handle.” He urges more people to see that industrialized food makes us “the recycling bin of that corporate waste,” shake their local rancher’s hand, and decentralize their thinking about food.
Slim sees that this will come only with time and effort. His “truth wins” motto is behind every act. “We’re gonna get back to where we came from,” he declares. Between his podcast, his substack, streaming on Youtube, and upcoming reels on Instagram, he hopes to both spread awareness and offer his solution. And, he seems to be having some success—he and his son have recently gone to Australia to meet with ranchers and look at breeds of cattle to start his own herd, with expansion of his network going there, South America, and Nigeria. “We didn’t know where this was going to go,” he says, “but I guarantee I’m not stopping.” For the Beef Initiative, the work is not about the money. It’s about empowerment and voice through education—”That’s what we need to change the world.”