BILLINGS — The Montana Stockgrowers Association was formed when Montana was still a territory. This week, the group is holding its 135th annual convention in Billings.
President Fred Wacker, a rancher from Miles City, said the group's top priority is to advocate on behalf of Montana ranchers at the state and national level.
“Stockgrowers started out as the organization that everybody looked up to and they still do,” Wacker explained. “Our lobbying efforts, working with the Legislature and with our national delegation, puts us on front page with those folks all the time. They call us when they questions about agriculture. So, we have a good relationship with them. As stockgrowers has always had.”
The stockgrowers association is affiliated with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, who advocates for its members in Washington, D.C., on multiple issues, ranging from international trade, tax and credit, food safety, animal health, property rights, environment, federal lands, drought relief, marketing, nutrition and much more.
One hot topic at hand is the correct labeling of alternative protein products that imitate meat. In 2019, the national cattlemen's association has worked with elected officials to introduce the REAL MEAT Act. It was introduced in the House in October and the Senate just this week.
President and Tennessee cattlewoman Jennifer Houston explained that the legislation codifies the definition of beef for labeling along with enforcement of labeling standards.
“Our concern from the first day was that for any alternative proteins, particularly plant-based proteins that are out there, is that consumers are clear about what they're getting,” Houston explained. “The labels must be absolutely truthful, be scientific, be non-disparaging and be non-misleading. Because the last thing we want a consumer to do is think they're getting real beef, with our great nutritional packages and great sustainability story, and not be getting real beef.”
On trade, the progression of the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement this week has given agriculture a confidence boost, in addition to other trade accomplishments that occurred in 2019.
“The Japanese trade deal is the biggest to date,” Wacker said. “We also are working on finishing the one with the European Union and we are also working still with China. We have the trade tariff issues there. They're absolutely interested in high-quality beef for their high-quality customers.”
The Montana stockgrowers convention concludes on Thursday night.