Great Falls-On Saturday candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives debated agriculture and rural issues during a virtual primary debate aired statewide by Cowles Media and Northern News Radio Network. The debate was hosted by Montana Farmers Union, Northern Plains Resource Council, Montana Cattlemen Association and United States Cattlemen Association.

“This was a great opportunity for Montana voters to hear from our candidates so we all can make a better educated choice on Election day,” said Walter Schweitzer, President of Montana Farmers Union.“I appreciate the candidates that took the time to discuss rural and ag issues. I am very disappointed that one candidate, Matt Rosendale, chose to ignore rural and Ag issues.”

Democratic candidates Kathleen Williams and Tom Winter participated in the debate. Corey Stapelton, Mark McGinley, Joe Dooling, John Evankovich and Debra Lamm represented the Republicans. Debate topics ranged from truth in labeling, farm stress, the CSKT Water Compact, access to broadband, healthcare and more. Jim Sargent moderated the debate.

When asked about truth in labeling Both Williams and Winter support a Country-of-Origin label to include where the animal was born, raised and processed. “We need comprehensive country of origin labeling,” said Williams. “And I didn’t think we put enough fight up with the WTO. I’m ready to do that again and make sure we get it across the finish line.”

“We need Country-of-Origin Labeling because Montana consumers, American consumers and foreign consumers need to know the origin of the beef they are eating and more importantly they need to know the quality product comes from Montana ranchers,” said Winter.

Candidates were also asked to identify programs within the Farm Bill that they would work to improve upon.

“I think it’s the Packers Act is where you start,” said Winter. “One of the things the Packer’s Act has done and the way it has specifically been undermined as we have seen that it allows corporations to have a choke hold on small rural producers, small family farms ranchers and etc.”

“The Packers Act does need to be reformed, but that’s not the Farm Bill,” said Williams. “I would say one aspect of the Farm Bill that we really need to tee up this time around is how farmers and ranchers can help in addressing climate change through ensuring that we have the tools that they can improve soil health and thereby capture and sequester more carbon and be compensated for it.”

The republican candidates were asked the same round of questions. Here is what they had to say in respect to Country-of-Origin labeling with the label to include born, raised and processed.

“The USDA is creating monopolies and we have to stop that,” said John Evankovich. “We need free markets and looking at our food in terms of is it raised, is it produced in the USA? Why can’t we start letting the people who are growing our food hand it off to the people who are shelving our food to the people who are going to buy it? Why do we have to have this middle man that is creating this monopoly? It has got to stop.”

“Fundamentally my philosophy I am a free trade person,” said Mark McGinley. “If you give the American farmer and rancher a level playing field he will compete and he will profit and that is the fact. The possibility of how to go about this is to respect those free trade agreements. I want to see labeling, see where meat comes from and respect that. At the same time Montana ranchers can sell their beef as raised and slaughtered in the state of Montana. That’s a marketing niche.”

“I actually think the consumers need, deserve and are educated enough to have better and more information,” said Corey Stapelton. “So I think that we have the ability to track an animal that comes from the U.S., goes to Canada, goes to Mexico and back. I think our capability to document where our animals have gone is there. I would like full disclosure on all of the stops.”

“I do think we can modify the labeling to include where it is raised,” said Lamm. “Because unfortunately we are seeing less expensive beef coming in from Brazil and other countries and it gets mixed with our higher quality beef and it is sort of preventing the consumer from knowing where it’s coming from and takes away an opportunity from our own ranchers to identify that their meat is available.”

“There are a lot of cattle that are born in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, winter in Mexico and then come back up to the feedlots in Yuma and those cattle can’t of course be considered U.S. cattle,” said Joe Dooling. “That’s an excuse the packers have used for years that it’s too hard to track the cattle but at the end of the day we can track them. Again we do it with certified Black Angus and BQA. It all goes back to this breaking up the packers.”

When the republican candidates were asked about what they would improve in regards to the next Farm Bill the answers ranged from addressing access to markets to risk protections for cattle producers.

Candidates also fielded questions on climate change, the economy, food supply, trade, education and more. If you missed the debate watch it here.

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