Do you ever wonder where your steak came from? Did you know that there are only four major companies that control the majority of the beef supply in the U.S.? This is one reason that our food supply chain is so fragile. And this is what AJ Richards is setting out to change. AJ is a combat veteran, an entrepreneur and the head of Sustenance Earth, Inc. He wants to help everyone understand the importance of knowing the provenance of their food and establishing food security.
As AJ puts it, it’s time to “shake the hand that feeds us” by getting to know our local rancher. Going local upsets the conventional beef industry but it shores up your food security. You see, it’s the beef industry centralization that is compounding issues in our national US food system…and that same system is negatively impacting our health and food sovereignty.
AJ highlights today some of the issues with the current system and how to opt out of it, for the sake of your health and food freedom). He also tells of a standoff that his family had with the Bureau of Land Management that was attempting to confiscate their land.
Check out our sponsors: Real Milk – https://www.realmilk.com/
Optimal Carnivore – https://www.amazon.com/optimalcarnivore
Listen to the podcast here
Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda.
Did you know that four corporations are responsible for the majority of beef that we buy in the United States and that most of the meat on our dinner plates has traveled thousands of miles to get there? This is Episode 446, and our guest is AJ Richards. AJ is a combat veteran, an entrepreneur, and the CEO of Sustenance Earth, an online marketplace that connects consumers to local food producers.
He’s also simply a man on a mission. He is working to help the public understand the fragility of our food supply chain and how to gain control over it to enhance food security. In this episode, we focus on the beef industry and why we need to shake things up. AJ discusses the monopoly of said industry and how centralization is compounding issues in our national US food system.
He points out that the US imports a larger percentage of beef than ever before, at the same time exporting beef to other countries with an American price tag. This results in the meat on our plate, having traveled halfway around the world to get there while running local, sustainable farms into the ground.
AJ takes a personal turn at the end of this conversation, telling us of a confrontation that his family had with the Bureau of Land Management that wanted to take their land. For each of us, AJ reminds us that the best bet for improved health, food sovereignty, and security is to meet our local rancher and buy their beef.
Before we get into the conversation, are you curious about the safety of raw milk? Are you wondering about its availability near you? Go to Real Milk. It is a source of reliable information on real raw milk. There are articles, blogs, posts, videos, and even podcasts that explain why raw milk is healthy, its amazing benefits, and where you can get it in the United States. You’ll also find insights into the politics and economics of raw milk and the industrial dairy system. Go to Real Milk for more resources.
Visit AJ’s Website: Feed The People By The People
Find more resources on our website: Weston A. Price
Welcome to the show, AJ.
Thanks for having me.
I met you in Utah. We were talking in the car about our food system. Talk to me about the four main groups that control our fief in the US.
We’ve got the four meat packers. The biggest concern is JBS, Cargill, National Beef, and Tyson. Two of those are foreign-owned entities.
What does it mean that they control so much of the beef industry?
When it’s centralized the way it is, it gives us an unstable food supply chain. We saw an experience of that during COVID. It highlighted what centralization has done because depending on where you were, if you were in a large city, you’d go to the grocery store, and there would be a limited supply of meat, if any.
How are these companies causing that scarcity?
We’ve lost about 40% of our small farms and ranches since 2000 because of the shift in where the revenue was going. They have this conversation, “Vote with your dollars.” This is the result of that. These big four companies are taking all of these food dollars, which means the small farms and ranches can’t survive. The way that works is at the auction level. You have what’s called a cow-calf operation, which is most common in the US, which means the rancher will raise calves, take them to auction at a certain age, wait, and sell them. The buyers are the big four. Because of the size of these companies, they can manipulate and control the prices at the auction house because they’re the ones buying the majority of that inventory.
We’ve seen examples of this where it’s like this eight-year swing. Every eight years, the prices for the producer will go sky high, and they make a lot of money. All of a sudden, they feel like things are going to get better. The next year or two, the bottom drops out, and we lose a lot more farms and ranches. You can trace it and track it to the buying habits of the major corporations.
It’s also tied to the importation of cattle or beef that’s happening. We’re at the highest percentage of imported beef we’ve seen in a long time. I couldn’t tell you the exact number. I just read this article, which means they’re bringing beef in from other countries. That means we’re not buying beef here, or we’re not buying as much beef here. That’s changing the prices and auctions because they went high because of inventory shortages. These companies can pivot and buy it cheaper from a foreign country like Brazil or South Africa, import, cut, wrap, and send it out to the American consumer.
This is mind-boggling. In other words, we are exporting some of our meat or a lot of meat, and we’re importing other amounts because it all has to do with the bottom line, which is money for these companies.
If you look, you’ll see that the import poundage of beef is equal almost exactly to what we export. What’s happening is they’re buying cheaper cattle in a foreign country, selling it at American prices once they get it here, and they’re buying American cattle at lower prices because they can manipulate the price. Because it carries the American brand, they send it to a foreign country and sell it for more. It’s always about manipulating the market to feed their bottom line or to increase their share value.
Going back to what you were saying earlier about the auction, you were telling me before about the experience that a small rancher might have where he goes in. He’s trying to play with the big dogs and buy cattle. The other guys keep bidding it up. It’s almost like a game to them. They can squeeze the small rancher out.
This was a particular gentleman who built a slaughterhouse and had a feedlot where he could go buy cattle at the auction, feed him out, run them to his slaughterhouse, and try to play in that field. If you have the power to do that, that’s smart business. When you’re only looking at it for the revenue fact, you’re not looking at the downstream consequences for humanity and consumer audience in America because that’s not even in your consideration. It’s about, “How do I drive the most profit?”
As that is your only measurement of success, they’re doing a good job. What will happen is this particular gentleman would go to the auction to buy. Because they had so much money, they would bid until the cost of those cows went high that either that rancher or that feedlot owner paid more than they were worth to have something go through his supply chain to keep his people in business, or they would win the bid, he wouldn’t get any, go home empty-handed, and attempt them. They’ve got enough money in their coffers that they can wait that game out.
Why should the average consumer care that these four companies are dominating the beef industry market?
On one hand, the average consumer benefits because they’re keeping the cost of beef low. That’s a short-term benefit because we are losing our small farms and ranches. The other side of that is that they don’t care about the end consumer and their health. They care about the profit. There are reports of microplastics making its way into our beef because you can see instances if you do a little bit of research.
Corn and grain are high in price. That’s because nitrogen and fertilizer prices are through the roof. All of the commodities that are used to fatten cattle in these big feedlots have increased. To cut corners, they’ll feed these cattle waste products like packaged candy bars and Twinkies. When they go feed them to the cattle, they won’t take them out of the wrapper because that would be labor hours. Instead, they throw all of that packaging included into big grinders, grind it up, and mix it in the feed, and now, cattle are eating plastic.
I’ve never heard of this before, AJ. This is crazy.
It’s not okay. No wonder cancer rates and chronic health rates are skyrocketing in our country. It’s because our food system is solely focused on revenue, not what it should have been focused on, which is quality of life and giving high-quality nutrients to the population of that particular region, wherever we’re discussing this.
Chronic health rates are skyrocketing in the United States because the food system is solely focused on revenue instead of giving high-quality nutrients to the population of a particular region.
For the cattle, I think they shouldn’t be fed candy bars. Humans shouldn’t eat them, but neither should the animals.
I want to be sensitive to this because we have put ourselves in a situation as a country where the amount of food that we’re producing is somewhat necessary, although most of us realize that we waste 40% of the food that’s produced. If we could handle that problem, we would be producing enough food. What happens is a cow that goes to a feedlot where they’re fed corn and grain is fast track to getting big enough to slaughter. You can process an eighteen-month-old cow in a feedlot versus something fed on pasture. Naturally, they’re not at a weight for that process until 25 to 30 months or more because it’s a natural growth.
If you compare those animals side by side, an animal in a feedlot, if you keep giving it the same diet every day, will die of chronic health issues like the American food diet within a couple of years. They won’t last long on that ration versus a cow on grass, barring any predator involvement. They will live 25 years.
When you’re eating a grass-fed and finished or a regeneratively raised animal, you’re eating a healthy animal versus if you’re eating one that’s been fattened on corn and grain, maybe given antibiotics because it’s living in its own feces with thousands of other cattle, that’s what you’re getting in the meat there. That’s not good for the human body.
How did you learn so much about this?
My family have been in ranching for a long time. They’re cow-calf guys. In 2020, when the food supply chain broke, I was worried about my children and their future and my grandchildren. I made it my mission to find a solution for our current food supply chain. One that would support the small farms and ranchers and put the consumer in a place where they could shake the hand that feeds them.
When you had that a-ha moment, and you started thinking about the future of your children and your grandchildren, I know your children are young, so it’s going to be a minute before the grandchildren come along, but when you had that a-ha moment, how did you roll up your sleeves and get involved?
It’s been a process. It’s been a lot of personal development, wondering if I’m the right guy because who am I to take this on? We’re talking about a food system that’s been in place in its current state since the 1980s. What would this guy me know to do? A big part of that has been personal development. I started studying and listening. I’ve made it my intention to shake the hand of every expert at every angle. I’m not committed to being right. I’m committed to getting it right. That means interviewing and meeting as many people at different stages of this process as possible.
Sometimes, I’ll meet somebody who will adjust my viewpoint of what I’ve learned up to this point. I’m committed to the ultimate outcome, which is saving our small farms and ranches and encouraging a new agrarian movement. In other words, getting more people back into agriculture to offset what we’ve lost and seeing how that affects the health of the humans around me and people in our communities, both physically and mentally. It’s been a process of learning.
What have you seen so far? Have you seen anything that gives you hope?
Yes, I have. I’m working on some projects of my own to connect consumers and producers. What gives me hope is I’m not the only one. I believe in abundance, not scarcity. Scarcity is what got us in the position we’re in. When you want to be the dominating business and have no other person participate, to me, that’s a scarcity mindset because that means there’s not enough for others. If you looked at this from a holistic point of view, holistic land management is a movement by Allan Savory, but even in your decision-making processes, holistically, you would say, “At some point, if I’m the only one, we’ve created a destabilized food supply chain.” That’s not holistic. I shouldn’t take out all of my competitors and see them thrive.
At the end of the day, there are 327 million people in our country that need to eat. What’s encouraging to me is I’m not the only one working on this now. 2020 woke up a lot of people in many different areas of our society that are not working. There are active participants trying to change those things. In the food space, I’ve seen quite a few new ideas come to the table. The days are numbered for the big four. They’re going to go out gnashing and gnarling their teeth because that’s how it has to be. I get it. There are some new things coming that I’m excited for.
Can you tell us about some of the new things that are giving you hope?
I’ve been working on a project to use technology software as a service to rethink the way we source our food, like what Airbnb did with short-term rentals. I’m going to apply that same methodology to almost a digital farmer’s market. If you own a small farm or ranch, or even if it’s a larger one and you want to get your product direct to the consumer, or if you’re a consumer who would like to shake the hand that feeds you, you can open this platform and instantly be connected with everybody around you that’s raising food. You can get to know your food supply.
Human beings are dependent on three major things, which are food, shelter, and safety. I put water in with food, but food is the most important one. We have forsaken that as a society. Not knowing the source of that, we have become disconnected. I’ve seen multiple people wanting to do that same idea. Everybody is going to go about it their own way. They’ll be successful in their own niches, but that will start giving us many other places to source our meat from or produce or dairy that’s grown other than having to go to a big corporate store.
Coming up, AJ talks about the confrontation that his family had with the Bureau of Land Management, and he also points out what is contributing to the collapse of local sustainable farms.
Paleo Valley has an apple cider vinegar product, a supplement that gives you all the healing properties of apple cider vinegar without all of the fuss or burn. Go to Paleo Valley to get 15% off your first order, and check out their Apple cider vinegar complex and other products on their site.
Optimal Carnivore, Brain Nourish is a revolutionary new product from Optimal Carnivore. Use the code Weston 10 to get 10% off of all products.
This is important because what was highlighted in 2020 was the fragility of our food system and the infrastructure. Talk to us about how our food dollars are spent and how it continues to be fragile.
It’s estimated that $1 in $4 spent on food is spent at Walmart. That’s such a high percentage going to one company. I met somebody who worked in their supply chain division at the corporate level. He said they have internal conversations where they acknowledge that if their supply chain broke, America would be out of food in three days. People will say, “There are more stores than Walmart.” What’s being missed there is if they get $1 in $4, that means those other stores are out of food within minutes if that supply chain breaks, and there’s no more coming.
One of the things Americans have been led towards, in many cases, is the path of least resistance, comfort, or instant gratification. What that leads to is I can go buy these highly processed foods and save money. I have more spending money, or even if you don’t have extra spending money. I’m going to save money on my food, but I’m paying all these other fees for my health. I’m buying medications. Even if it’s mental health, like anxiety and depression, we know that’s a chronic health disease that can be cured by highly nutritious, locally raised, regenerative, organic, whatever buzzword you want to use food. That can cure those things, but we don’t associate that. We think, “I’m going to save money on food, but I’m spending all this money on my healthcare.”
Instead of saving money to buy medication, save money on buying highly nutritious, locally raised, and organic food.
We used to spend 30% of our budget on food and 8% on healthcare. It’s switched. We’re spending 8% of our budget on food and 30% or more on healthcare. Voting with your dollars now makes sure, first of all, that you even have access to it later because we support our small farms and ranches. That’s the reality. There are countries going through experiences.
You can look at history where they didn’t support local ag. The whole lot more of the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1933, millions of people died in one season because of whether it was intentionally by Stalin or poor management. They ran out of food in one season. Voting with your food dollars, first of all, make sure it’s there. Second of all, make sure that you are healthy in your later years.
Talk to us about how many ranches there are that are doing it right, regeneratively, and sustainably.
It’s few that are doing it right, but it’s growing. Things like Allan Savory’s work and Kiss the Ground documentary that was on Netflix. They’re going to come out with a second one called Common Ground. They’re starting to reach the consumer population and make a different shift in what they’re doing. That’s growing, even though there’s not enough now. That’s why I say this is a process. We’ve been doing this in our supply chain since 1980. What happened is Reagan changed the antitrust laws. The Big Four only had 25% control of the market. Now, they have 85% because they were able to keep buying up smaller companies.
Beef alone is a $64 billion-a-year industry, and four companies get 85% of that. That means they leave the rest of the population 15% to scrap over. That’s why we’re losing our food supply.
What happened with COVID was the meat processing plant shut down because everybody had to go home. That created this downstream effect. We’ve been dependent on one slaughterhouse that can slaughter 3,000 animals in a day versus the smaller mom-and-pops regionally throughout our cities, towns, and country. When they closed, we had nobody producing beef because it’s all gone to the big guys on a large scale.
If we get back to a decentralized supply chain where we have small mom-and-pop all over the country, we can self-sustain. We don’t waste as much food. We start looking at sustainable practices like regenerative and holistic management. We process at a local level. We don’t have to haul it as far. We’re not contributing to the carbon emissions issue. Talk about agriculture being the major factor in carbon. Global warming is false. It’s the decisions the corporations are making on how we get our food is the problem. It’s the mechanized movement of our food around the planet. That’s the issue.
We talk about the import-export. When we’re moving billions of pounds of meat by massive shipping containers on the sea, which one supertanker is equal to 40,000 cars, that’s why there’s a saying, “It’s not the cow. It’s the how.” It’s how we’re getting our food. The average steak travels somewhere around 1,500 miles before it lands on your plate. Almost everybody reading this can drive within minutes and see a cow standing in a pasture. If that’s how you were sourcing it, “global warming” is a desertification issue. We fix our emissions and our carbon issue. We’re increasing forage, that’s drawing down carbon. We’re feeding our people more healthy food because they’re buying it locally. We solve a lot of issues that way.
It’s like Charles Eisenstein says, “We’re going to create a parallel society or a parallel economy where, in terms of food, we’re getting our beef right where we live.” We’re solving many problems at once. I get the feeling these four companies aren’t going to go down without a fight. When they start seeing their profits go down, how do you think they’re going to try to turn things around?
I’m already considering that, even though I’m a little gnat in the window now because we’re getting started. I believe that myself or somebody doing this is going to be successful in helping our people. There will be regulation. They’ll use lobbyists to regulate these concepts of buying locally out of businesses.
I read an article that the USDA is now looking at buying a cow share illegally, which means, with a lot of farms and ranches, what they do is, I have a cow. You would like to buy some of that. We don’t have a USDA meat processing facility around us. You have to buy a portion of a share of that animal before it goes to slaughter. You might buy a quarter, the next neighbor buys a quarter, and two other people buy a quarter. That’s how we can support a localized food system. They’re trying to outlaw that.
I have a strong feeling that a big part of that is because of lobbying that’s happening behind the scenes because they see the trend of going local even now. Our biggest threat will be regulatory. That’s why it’s important that I am not the only one doing this because if I’m the only one and we’re the only concept out there to do this decentralized food buying, it’s an easy target. They can wipe it out quickly. That’s the biggest threat we see coming.
I sense the passion in your voice, AJ. I also know that personally, your family had to fight some big agency from the government that was trying to take your land. Can you tell us a little bit about that story?
I’ll be sensitive to the fact that I wasn’t there personally, but I’ve had enough conversations to at least get you over the bullseye. My family are the Bundy ranchers who went head-to-head with the Bureau of Land Management in the ag world. That was the first BLM organization. They had grazing rights to a particular area in Mesquite. They’ve had them since the late 1800s. There were some disputes on whether they were being paid, which I know they were, but there are some details around that you should hear from the family themselves.
What happened or came out was that there were people in Congress trying to sell that land to China for a solar farm. Before that came out, there was a full-on, almost Waco-style showdown. It’s the internet. You’re going to find whatever evidence you want to find for whatever side you want to find. I’m telling you, as a relative, this is what I know. We see long-term results of this. This was 2014. It’s now 2023. We can see that there were some agendas happening at that time.
It was a Western showdown. You had cowboys on horseback carrying the American flag with six shooters on their hips. You had fully outfitted park rangers and Bureau of Land Management agents with sniper rifles and AR15s on the other side. It was a peaceful surrender by the Bureau of Land Management side.
My family went in and rounded up what cattle were left. They found mass grave sites where they had executed a decent number of their cattle. It wasn’t ethical at all. They destroyed a lot of watering points that they had built over the decades to help the wildlife there and their cattle thrive in the desert. Those were all destroyed. A few years later, there was another showdown where a gentleman was killed.
Speaking to the other side of that, I was in a self-development seminar while all that was happening. The general public couldn’t get behind what was happening because the news focused on the armed militia that was there. They had volunteer militias show up to protect my family while they were to expose the corruption that was happening at the Federal level.
When that all went down, they set up a sting operation. You can see all this on drone footage. They got run off the road into the snow. LaVoy got out of the truck and got shot and killed. My family was arrested and put in prison for two years. They were political prisoners. The reason that I’m firm on that is because several years later, the judge looked at the government’s attorneys and said, “You have corrupted this case so badly that I can’t try it. Everybody’s acquitted.”
If there were real evidence of wrongdoing, then the prosecuting attorneys wouldn’t have had to lie about anything. They wouldn’t have had to be corrupt that it was even completely thrown out. I’m not going to argue over semantics, but I’ve seen this happening to the small farm and ranch my entire life. I watch these organizations sue to have land or water rights removed to reduce cattle herds because they think they’re the problem.
If you study Allan Savory’s stuff, you’ll know that the only solution to desertification in the West is more ruminating animals, more cattle or more bison, whatever you want to put out there. We need millions more to reverse desertification. The cows are not the problem. It is management. I will say that some producers need to see their side of that. There are some new ways to manage that are better for the environment. By and large, it’s a management issue, not a cow issue, which is what we rely on for food.
The only solution to desertification in the West is more ruminating animals, more cattle, or more bison. We just need millions more to reverse this problem.
Fantastic. You’ve given us some great insights. I know that you said, “It’s good for us to vote with our dollar, find out who’s producing beef properly in our area, support them, and be ready for anything.” I want to ask you the question I often pose at the end here. If the reader could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do?
Eat more meat, contrary to maybe a lot of belief, and somebody might be hearing this. You might be vegan or vegetarian. I honor you and respect you for that choice, but if you’re asking me and it’s my turn, I’m going to say, “Eat more meat.” What I do want to say is it’s a hard time in our country, and people don’t have a lot of money. I want to share what I’ve been trying to share with a lot of people who are on a tight budget. Most people don’t understand. There’s this term in the cattle industry called a cull cow. What that means is it’s a cow that’s being retired. It’s an older cow. Maybe it’s a cow that’s not having calves anymore. It’s a cow that never had a calf. It might be young. It never could get pregnant. It could be a bull that’s no longer producing calves. They’re culling that from the herd. That’s the term cull.
Those are typically a lot cheaper for an animal to buy. If you’re on a budget, find your local farmer and rancher. You might shock them when you ask for the cull cow because marketing trains us to buy what we think we want to buy. Cull cows are healthy. In many cases, they’ve lived on the range their whole lives. They’re probably the healthiest cow.
Because of its age, it may not be as tender and flavorful. If you grind that animal up to ground beef, you have taco seasonings and burger seasonings you can put on there. You can get healthy, nutrient-dense meat on a budget. Don’t be picky. Our freezer is full of cull cows because we understand that we eat for the nutrients, not for the flavor, all the time. If I want a juicy steak, I’ll go to a steakhouse and ask them where they first source it, but I’ll go to a steakhouse for that. In my home daily, what I care about is the nutrients of the food I’m eating.
AJ, thank you so much for this conversation. It’s been wonderful.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great to meet you.
Our guest was AJ Richards. You can visit his website, Feed The People By The People, to learn more. You can find me and my resources on my website. For a review from Apple Podcasts from Lonnie of Greener Postures, she called it Top Notch. Lonnie said, “It is a great show and interesting topics, well hosted with an even head and gentle tone. Thank you for all the great episodes.” Lonnie, it is our pleasure. You can rate and review this show on Apple Podcasts, or if it’s easier, send a link to an episode to a friend and get the word out about this health and lifesaving information. Thank you so much for reading. Stay well, and remember to keep your feet on the ground and your face to the sun.
About AJ Richards
AJ Richards is a combat veteran, entrepreneur, and CEO of Sustenance Earth Inc, a SAAS marketplace that connects consumers directly to local food producers. With over 3.5 years of experience in leading this innovative venture, he is redefining the food supply chain model in the US and enhancing food security for families.
AJ’s passion for agriculture and food quality stems from his family ranching background in Southern Utah. He has witnessed the challenges and inefficiencies of the centralized food system and its impact on farmers and consumers. He has leveraged his skills in sales, marketing, and fitness to create a platform that empowers people to source their food locally and reduce their carbon footprint. His ultimate goal is to bring fresh, nutritious, and sustainable food to tables across the US while transforming the food industry and benefiting the environment.🖨️ Print post