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USDA Subsidizes Beef Consumption
Reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 2, Spring 1998 by permission of Highlands News 
This page was last updated on January 06, 2009 .

In an effort to improve returns to the cattle industry, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in late March that taxpayer supported purchases of beef amounting to $30 million would be made. According to media reports, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman stated that these purchases are necessary to "help offset a surplus supply of cattle, which is depressing prices to ranchers and feedlot owners."

The USDA's $30 million purchase in addition to $141 million spent in 1997-98 for the school lunch program is expected to give beef prices a small boost. The latest purchases will be distributed through federal food assistance programs to food banks and charities.

USDA also helps promote sales of beef overseas through export credit guarantees, which amounted to more than $160 million in sales this year.

An additional subsidy is provided by leasing below cost grazing rights to ranchers on the National Forests and Bureau of Land Management public lands. Current grazing fees are set arbitrarily low at $1.35 a month for cow and calf. Private grazing fees are 5-10 times as much. This subsidy cost taxpayers approximately $500 million in 1996.

According to a 1991 General Accounting Office Report, the existing federal grazing fee formula "has had the added effect of insulating public lands ranchers from the fairly steady increases in market prices for forage paid by ranchers leasing private lands."

It has been a common practice for years that ranchers sub-lease their public land grazing leases to other ranchers for more than they pay and pocket the difference.

Highlights of public lands grazing:
  • Only about 3% of America's cattle producers and 5% of america's sheep producers have federal grazing permits.
  • Less than 3.5% of U.S. beef production comes from federal rangelands.
  • Federal rangelands provide only 2.6% of the nation's total feed for cattle, sheep, horses and goats.
  • Jobs related to Federal grazing in the 11 western states is about .06% of the total number of jobs.
  • Federal grazing contributes only .04% of all the income in the 11 western states.
  • 90 animal species on federal lands are endangered and threatened because of livestock grazing.
  • 19-22% of all endangered and threatened species are harmed by livestock grazing.
  • Livestock grazing is a primary threat (along with roads, logging and mining) to cold water fisheries.