Ranchers raise cattle. They bear most of the cost. (AP/Gary Kazanjian)

Ranchers raise cattle. They bear most of the cost. (AP/Gary Kazanjian)

Beef companies buy the cattle from ranchers. They fatten them up on feed lots. (AP/Ed Andrieski)

Beef companies buy the cattle from ranchers. They fatten them up on feed lots. (AP/Ed Andrieski)

Beef companies process and sell the meat to stores. (AP/Nati Harnik)

Beef companies process and sell the meat to stores. (AP/Nati Harnik)

Customers like you and your family buy the meat in supermarkets. (AP/David Zalubowski)

Customers like you and your family buy the meat in supermarkets. (AP/David Zalubowski)

Workers leave a Tyson Foods meat processing plant in Logansport, Indiana. Four meatpacking companies handle most of the United States’ beef. (AP/Michael Conroy)

Workers leave a Tyson Foods meat processing plant in Logansport, Indiana. Four meatpacking companies handle most of the United States’ beef. (AP/Michael Conroy)

Mooooove Over, Middleman

Posted: January 1, 2022

Don’t have a cow. Sell a cow. An average 1,370-pound steer is worth about $1,630. That’s quite a chunk of change!

Who gets the money? Not just the rancher. Some dollars go to the slaughterhouse (the place the cow is butchered). Some go to the operator of the feed lot (the place cows are “finished”—fed and fattened up for slaughter).

Ranchers like Rusty Kemp want to cut out the middleman. A middleman is a person or company buying goods from the person who produces them. After buying, the middleman resells the goods to buyers. So: A rancher raises a cow. The rancher is the producer. A beef company buys the cow. Then it finishes, slaughters, and sells the beef. The beef company is the middleman. When your family buys the meat in a store, you are the consumers. That’s the end of the line in this process. Cutting out the middleman could mean that more money goes to the producer. It might even lower prices for consumers.

Right now, four companies control most of the beef in the United States. Eight of every 10 cows are processed by Cargill, JBS, Tyson Foods, or National Beef Packing.

Sustainable Beef and other companies want more options. If these smaller, farmer-owned companies succeed, farmers will have more control over the whole process—from calf to steak to grocery store shelves. Then will farmers finally get a bigger bite of the burger?

The Bible says that “the laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18) It’s important to God that people get appropriate payment for their work. Farming is expensive, and it matters that farmers receive enough money for the cattle they raise to keep their farms in business. But working with middlemen has benefits too. Farmers can focus on their vocations: raising cattle. And big beef companies can supply many jobs and produce a lot of food fast.