Rustling costs ranchers millions in poor economy

By JIM SUHR, AP Business Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Even with cattle theft rampant in much of the nation’s midsection, Oklahoma rancher Ryan Payne wasn’t worried about anyone messing with his cows and calves. By his estimation, his pasture is so far off the beaten path “you need a helicopter to see it.”

Branding a cowThat changed last month when Payne, 37, checked on his livestock and found a ghoulish scene: Piles of entrails from two Black angus calves he says thieves gutted “like they were deer.” They made off with the meat and another 400-pound calf in a heist he estimated cost him $1,800.

“Gosh, times are tough, and maybe people are truly starving and just need the meat,” he said. “But it’s shocking. I can’t believe people can stoop that low.”

While the brazenness may be unusual, the theft isn’t. High beef prices have made cattle attractive as a quick score for people struggling in the sluggish economy, and other livestock are being taken too. Six thousand lambs were stolen from a feedlot in Texas, and nearly 1,000 hogs have been stolen in recent weeks from farms in Iowa and Minnesota. The thefts add up to millions of dollars in losses for U.S. ranches.

Authorities say today’s thieves are sophisticated compared to the horseback bandits of the rugged Old West. They pull up livestock trailers in the middle of the night and know how to coax the animals inside. Investigators suspect it’s then a quick trip across state lines to sell the animals at auction barns.

“It almost has to be someone who knows about the business, including just knowing where to take the cattle,” said Carmen Fenton, a spokeswoman for the 15,000-member Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, formed in the 1870s specifically to combat cattle rustlers. “It’s crazy to think we’re still in business.”

There’s no clearinghouse that tracks thefts nationally, but statistics among certain states are staggering. In Texas — the nation’s biggest cattle producer — and to a lesser extent Oklahoma, some 4,500 cattle have been reported missing or stolen this year, according to Fenton’s group. The association’s special rangers managed to recover or account for $4.8 million in stolen ranch property each of the previous two years, most of it steers, bulls, cows and calves.

Such thefts also are happening in places once spared. In southwestern Missouri’s Jasper County, not far from a regional stockyard, about 100 of the nearly 180 head of cattle stolen this year were snatched during a recent six-week stretch, sheriff’s Lt. Ron Thomas said.

Branding a cow“Occasionally one or two have gotten stolen (over the years), but not this many in such a short time. They’ve gotten us big time,” he said, figuring the stolen livestock have been whisked off to another state. “These guys are not your typical fly-by-night, let’s-steal-a-cow kinda people. They know exactly what they’re doing. They’re pretty slick, and they’re bold.”

Investigators have found clues to be elusive, partly because thieves often artfully conceal their crimes by replacing pasture fences they’ve cut to get to the animals, Thomas said. Ranchers unaccustomed to counting their cattle each day may not realize any are missing for a week or more, and by then, any tire tracks or other evidence — perhaps even DNA or fingerprints from a soda or beer can discarded by the bandit — may be gone.

The other problem is that while brands are widely used in the West, three states hard hit by livestock thefts — Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas — don’t require them. That’s hampered investigators’ efforts to match recovered cattle to owners or to relay to stockyards markings to watch for when strangers haul in livestock to be sold.

Without brands, “ranchers could tell me their missing cow is brown and white, but goodness gracious, go down the road and you’ll see thousands,” Thomas said.

While a voluntary national livestock identification system exists, few ranchers and farmers participate in it and those who do fear that the rustlers will simply cut off the ID tag in seconds.

“Unfortunately, cattle don’t have a serial number that goes with them or some type of permanent ID” short of branding, said Jim Fraley, an Illinois Farm Bureau livestock specialist. “Thieves look at it as an opportunity and can market the cattle under their name. It’s a fairly easy thing to do.” Hot iron branding is the only proven method of ID that is permanent. Hide brands can not be removed or changed like electronic pens or ear tags.

In Ohio and Pennsylvania a single cattle rustler stole over $400,000 cattle. He was wise in never acquiring a single animal with a hot iron brand. Those stolen with ear marks or tags were quickly removed, therefore leaving no ID for law enforcement to track. The lack of hide brands invites a new breed of cattle rustler.

Owners’ vigilance has paid off in some cases. A Colorado rancher who was hunting prairie dogs spotted one of his branded, missing cows on another man’s property. Deputies swooped in and found 36 cows and 31 calves worth $68,000 and belonging to nine different people.

An Alabama rancher reported a couple of his cattle missing, and then two more were stolen the next night, Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis said. Sheriff’s investigators installed cameras on the property but got nothing before pulling them days later.

Not long after, the farmer called because he spotted two men with a pickup truck and what turned out to be a stolen trailer on his land. Deputies arrested the men and found five of the six missing cows — half of them pregnant — at various locations. The sixth animal already had been slaughtered.

Davis credited luck and the rancher’s “heightened alert” for snaring the two suspects.

“The boldness is the thing — for them to come back three different times to the same pasture,” he said. “Obviously, they didn’t feel very threatened about being caught. But I’ve never given criminals credit for having high intelligence.”

And they’re not finicky. An Ohio woman has been charged with taking $110,000 worth of frozen bull semen — which can valuable to breeders in even small amounts — from a liquid-nitrogen tank at a Moorefield Township genetics company where she once worked.

Nor are all the thefts big. Someone recently made off with two horses — ages 16 and 7 — from a home near Hanover in northeastern Illinois’ Jo Daviess County.

Back in Oklahoma, Payne replaced old wire gates on his ranch near Chelsea, with “big, old heavy-duty steel ones,” hoping to safeguard his other cows.

“That’s about all I can do,” he said. “Like everyone says, it never happens to me. I guess that’s wrong.”

Small farmers and urban poultry owners alike are threatened by the USDA’s new proposal for animal identification. The agency has proposed a rule that imposes costs and paperwork burdens on farmers, ranchers, backyard poultry owners, sale barns, vets, and state agencies in order to track animals that cross state lines.
The proposed rule is a solution in search of a problem. The USDA has failed to identify the specific problem or disease of concern, and the real focus of the program is helping the export market for the benefit of a handful of large corporations. The agency has also failed to account for the full cost to both private individuals and state governments, creating an unfunded mandate. The new rule will harm rural businesses while wasting taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on the real problems we face in controlling animal disease, food security, and food safety.
Family farmers and ranchers cannot afford additional paperwork and unnecessary expenses. Please help protect our farms and our right to own animals by submitting your comments today!
TAKE ACTION: You can submit comments either online or by mail.
The government’s online system can be difficult to navigate and there is a time limit. We encourage you to write your comments and save them in a document on your computer, then copy and paste them into the online comment form. Also, although only some of the information fields are marked as being “required,” some people have experienced problems when they left fields blank. So for the fields that are not required, you may wish to put “NA” (not applicable) in them to avoid potential problems.
BY MAIL: Docket No.APHIS–2009–0091, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A–03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737–1238
DEADLINE: Friday, December 9, 2011.
Please also send a copy of your comments to your Congressman and Senators. If you don’t know who represents you, you can find out at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov
Here are talking points you can use for your comments, followed by sample comments and more detailed information.
TALKING POINTS:
1) The agency should withdraw the proposed rule. If the export market would benefit from the proposed rule, as the agency claims, then the agribusinesses that export meat should pay the costs and offer economic premiums to livestock producers to encourage them to participate in a voluntary system.
2) The agency needs to identify the specific diseases of concern and analyze how to best address those diseases — including prevention measures — rather than continuing to push a one-size-fits-all tracking program.
3) Significant problems with the proposed regulation include:
  • Imposition of new requirements for identifying chickens and other poultry. Small farmers and backyard poultry owners should not be burdened with identifying and tracking birds, and the agency has not shown any need to impose these new requirements.
  • Applying the new identification requirements to feeder cattle.
  • Applying the requirements to direct-to-slaughter cattle, including both for custom and for retail sales.
  • Not recognizing brands and tattoos as official forms of identification.
SAMPLE COMMENTS: Please personalize these sample comments rather than doing a form letter. The personalization can be just a few sentences at the beginning of the comments, but it does make a significant difference. And if you have time to write more detailed comments, that’s even better!
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
I am a __________________ (farmer, local foods consumer, backyard poultry owner, horse owner, etc.). I am very concerned that the proposed rule will __________ (not be workable for my farm; impose costs on my farmers that will then be passed on to me; make it prohibitively expensive for me to order baby chicks from out-of-state hatcheries; etc.)
I urge the USDA to withdraw the proposed rule. If the export market would benefit from the proposed rule, as the agency claims, then the meat packing companies that export meat should pay the costs and offer economic premiums to livestock producers to encourage them to participate in a voluntary system. For disease control, the agency needs to focus on preventative measures rather than after-the-fact tracking.
There are significant problems with the proposed rule:
  • The imposition of new requirements for identifying chickens and other poultry. Small farmers and backyard poultry owners should not be burdened with identifying and tracking birds, and the agency has not shown any need to impose these new requirements.
  • Applying the new identification requirements to feeder cattle.
  • Applying the requirements to direct-to-slaughter cattle, both for custom and for retail sales.
  • Not recognizing brands and tattoos as official forms of identification.
Sincerely,
Name
Address
City, State Zip
MORE INFORMATION
The program is fundamentally flawed because it is not designed to address the real problems we face, and it imposes burdens on producers for the benefit of Big Agribusiness’ export markets.
We have asked USDA for data showing where the problems are in tracking animals currently. Rather than provide that data, USDA hand-picked a few anecdotes, out of the millions of animals in this country. But the agency’s unsupported claims do not justify imposing broad new tracking requirements. Small farms are not the source of most disease problems in this country, yet the proposed rule will burden them unfairly.
POULTRY: Small-scale, pastured, and backyard poultry will be particularly hard hit by the proposed rule. While the large confinement operations will be able to use “group identification,” the definition of the term does not cover most independent operations. Since thousands of people order baby chicks from hatcheries in other states, these birds cross state lines the first day of their lives. Even if the farmer or backyard owner never takes the bird across state lines again, they will have to use individually sealed and numbered leg bands on each chicken, turkey, goose, or duck to comply with the language of the proposed rule.
Even if the definition of “group identification” were changed to cover small operations, the result would be new paperwork requirements on almost every person who owns chickens, turkeys, or other poultry. The agency has entirely failed to justify imposing these burdens on poultry owners.
CATTLE: Along with new identification requirements imposed on all breeding-age cattle, the proposed rule would require identification and paperwork on calves and young cattle (“feeder cattle”), even though there’s no evidence that such requirements will help disease control. In addition, veterinarians and sale barns will have to keep records for 5 years, even though many of these cattle will have been consumed years earlier, creating mountains of useless paperwork.
Producers will only be able to use brands or tattoos as identification if their States enter into special agreements. State agencies will have to build extensive database systems to handle all of the data, creating problems for States’ budgets.
HORSES: The proposed rule also requires that horse owners identify their animals before crossing state lines. Although most, if not all, horses that are shipped across state lines are already identified in some fashion, the proposed rule creates a new complication: Whether or not a physical description is sufficient identification will be determined by the health officials in the receiving state, leaving vets and horse owners struggling with significant uncertainty as they have to anticipate what will be allowed.
SHEEP, GOATS, and HOG: The draft rule also covers sheep, goats, and hogs that cross state lines, essentially federalizing the existing programs which have been adopted state-by-state until now.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, go to www.farmandranchfreedom.org/Animal-ID-2011

PMB #106-380 4200 Wisconsin Avenue, NW – Washington, DC 20016 US

Team Obama Regulates Goat Herders’ Workplaces

Audrey Hudsonby Audrey Hudson
08/24/2011

 

The Obama administration is setting new workplace regulations to assist foreign workers who fill goat herding positions in the U.S. , including employee-paid cell phones and comfy beds.

These new special procedures issued by the Labor Department must be followed by employers who want to hire temporary agricultural foreign workers to perform sheep herding or goat herding activities. It describes strict rules for sleeping quarters, lighting, food storage, bathing, laundry, cooking and new rules for the counters where food is prepared.

“A separate sleeping unit shall be provided for each person, except in a family arrangement,” says the rules signed by Jane Oates, assistant secretary for employment and training administration at the Labor Department.

“Such a unit shall include a comfortable bed, cot or bunk, with a clean mattress,” the rules state.

Diane Katz, a research fellow in regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation, unearthed the policy in the “ Federal Register,” the massive daily journal of proposed regulations that Washington bureaucrats publish every day.

Under the Obama Administration, the nanny state has imposed 75 new major regulations with annual costs of $38 billion.

“This captures what is wrong with government,” Katz said. “I could not have made this up.”

With unemployment holding steady at 9% and government regulations adding more burden to small businesses, such as those run by ranching families, Katz said, bureaucrats aren’t helping.

“Instead of remedying the problem, the regulations make it that much harder,” Katz insisted. “We may need a whole set of regulations just to define what a comfortable bed is. I imagine it’s not straw.”

The new lighting standards say that in areas where it is not feasible to provide electrical service such as tents or mobile trailers, lanterns must be provided. “Kerosene wick lights meet the definition of lantern,” the regulations say.

“When workers or their families are permitted or required to cook in their individual unit, a space shall be provided with adequate lighting and ventilation.”

“Wall surfaces next to all food preparation and cooking areas shall be of nonabsorbent, easy-to-clean material. Wall surfaces next to cooking areas shall be of fire-resistant material,” the regulations say.

“It makes you wonder,” Katz said, “how they ever did this before the government got involved?”

“Who knew we needed all of this federal help for herding goats?” Katz quipped.

 


Audrey Hudson, an award-winning investigative journalist, is a Congressional Correspondent for HUMAN EVENTS. A native of Kentucky, Mrs. Hudson has worked inside the Beltway for nearly two decades — on Capitol Hill as a Senate and House spokeswoman, and most recently at The Washington Times covering Congress, Homeland Security, and the Supreme Court.

R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America

“Fighting for the U.S. Cattle Producer”

For Immediate Release Contact: R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard

August 9, 2011 Phone: 406-252-2516; r-calfusa@r-calfusa.com

USDA Spurns U.S. Cattle Industry: Issues Overreaching, Intrusive Mandatory Animal Identification Rule

Billings, Mont. — In direct defiance of fundamental recommendations to preserve branding as a means of official animal identification and to not include cattle less than 18 months of age in any national animal identification system made by R-CALF USA and several other U.S. livestock groups, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today released an early version of its proposed rule to implement a national animal identification system titled “Traceability for Livestock Moving Interstate” (proposed rule).

The proposed rule would remove the hot-iron brand from among the list of official identification devices that cattle producers could choose to comply with the new federal mandate. It also encompasses cattle less than 18 months of age that would be triggered at USDA’s discretion one-year after USDA determines that older-aged cattle are substantially identified.

“The proposed rule, expected to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, not only spurns the U.S. livestock industries key recommendations regarding the hot-iron brand and younger cattle, but also, it snubs the critical recommendation by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s own Advisory Committee on Animal Health, which urged the Secretary to provide at least a 120-day public comment period for the proposed rule. Instead, Vilsack is only providing a 90-day public comment period,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

Bullard said the 90-day comment period will run at a time when tens of thousands of livestock producers are battling perhaps the nation’s most widespread and devastating drought and coincides with the cattle industry’s busy calf-weaning and calf-shipping season.

According to Bullard, USDA’s rejection of its own advisory committee’s recommendation to give producers more time to respond to the 114-page proposed rule suggests it already has decided to force this unacceptable mandate on U.S. livestock producers.

“USDA is running roughshod over the U.S. livestock industry with its bureaucratic ‘we know better than the entire industry’ attitude,” said Bullard adding, “USDA officials have deceived livestock producers by pretending to seriously consider producer recommendations and then springing these unworkable and unacceptable mandates on us in its proposed rule.”

“It’s obvious that USDA did not listen to the multitude of U.S. livestock producers who participated in the agency’s nationwide NAIS (National Animal Identification System) listening sessions in 2009 and overwhelmingly opposed USDA’s efforts to force individual identification on younger cattle and any mandate that would limit a producer’s choice regarding how they identify their livestock,” said R-CALF USA President George Chambers.

Chambers said his group will be calling for new listening sessions to help USDA recall the serious concerns producers raised earlier but have since been either forgotten or ignored.

Chambers said the proposed rule severely restricts producer choices because it removes completely the option for a producer to unilaterally choose to continue using the hot-iron brand when shipping cattle across state lines.

“Under the proposed rule, individual producers cannot choose on their own to continue using the hot-iron brand to identify their cattle. Nor can an individual state on its own choose to identify the cattle leaving their state with a hot-iron brand. Only if two state governments mutually agree to use the now delisted hot-iron brand will that option be available to either U.S. cattle producers or individual states,” Chambers said.

He continued to explain, “USDA did not have to attack our industry’s hot-iron brand or add younger cattle to the proposed rule in order to improve animal disease traceability in the United States, but we believe it has chosen to do so to appease the World Trade Organization and other international tribunals.”

Chambers also explained that the proposed rule itself provides absolute proof that the hot-iron brand remains an effective means of identifying animals in interstate commerce:

The proposed rule expressly allows producers to use hot-iron brands on their horses when shipping across state lines. This provision completely obliterates USDA’s feeble argument that it cannot require the 36 non-brand program states to accept a registered brand originating in the 14 brand program states as an official identification device — that’s precisely what USDA is doing with horses. It’s clear USDA is misleading us to achieve some ulterior motive.

“This proposed rule reduces flexibility and reduces producer choices and we are urging U.S. livestock producers to aggressively oppose the proposed rule,” Chambers concluded.

The public can submit comments on the proposed rule by either of the following methods:

– Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=APHIS-2009-0091-0001.

– Postal Mail/Commercial Delivery: Send your comment to Docket No. APHIS-2009-

0091, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River

Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.

# # #

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 46 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.

Note: The Proposed Rule can be viewed at http://r-calfusa.com/animal%20id/110809USDAProposedRule.pdf

Note: To remove yourself from this list, reply to this e-mail and include the word “unsubscribe” in the subject line.

 

Food Freedom

Are the raw milk raids to distract from something far more deadly to farming?

By William Davis (Food Freedom)

People have been saying that the FDA goofed because their attacks on Rawesome and California’s cease and desist orders for goat herders have galvanized public attention to the issue of raw milk and safe food. But when corporate media gives time to grass roots anti-corporate issues, there is usually a purpose.

Just as the New York Times and other corporate outlets appeared to be muck raking about industrial agriculture with all their stories on the terrible, contaminated conditions there as the food safety bills were on the table in Congress, it was not to ensure the small farmers became a greater source of food but to create sense of public outrage in order to push through a devastating corporate bill.

Not once did the NY Times publish articles on how the bills threatened farmers, though it was blatant that they did, or on how corrupt the FDA was, or about the fact that a Monsanto lawyer and VP was put in charge of all food and farms. And now that the Food Safety Modernization Act has passed and that same Monsanto person is ordering raids against safe food across the country, the NY Times is also silent.

So, if there is big media attention on FDA raids now, one is compelled to wonder what are they pulling farming, food and health advocates’ attention from?

A good guess is the gargantuan thing the USDA is doing to farmers and ranchers and anyone with so much as a chicken. Jim Hightower, former agricultural commissioner in Texas back when such people actually cared about farmers, has called the USDA plan “lunatic.”

The USDA program was once called NAIS (the National Animal Identification System) but was so detested by farmers and ranchers that the government had to back off. They did, momentarily, since 90% of the farmers at Vilsack’s listening sessions were vehemently opposed. The USDA promised to take that into consideration.

They did. They changed the name to “traceability,” hoping to slip it through now, hoping farmers are worn out from the last go-round, hoping the public won’t notice, and perhaps hoping the raw milk raids will keep farmers, and the public who strongly supports them, occupied.

NAIS, or traceability, had been promised as voluntary but the USDA is bringing it back as mandatory. It had been promised to ranchers that their brands would serve as identification but the USDA flat out lied about that.

“USDA did not have to attack our industry’s hot-iron brand or add younger cattle to the proposed rule in order to improve animal disease traceability in the United States, but we believe it has chosen to do so to appease the World Trade Organization and other international tribunals,” said R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard recently.

Hightower’s article makes clear that this animal ID plan to track down deadly animal diseases is not about diseases at all. Neither is the USDA’s decision to locate a germ lab in Tornado Alley over the objections of ranchers and scientists who say it can cause a leak and set off diseases, or in trying to bring in cattle from Brazil where a disease is active now, once again over the objections of ranchers working to keep their animals healthy.

So what is this USDA program that is rousing all this resistance and all this lying on the USDA’s part? Hightower says it is a system that “would compel all owners of [farm] animals to register their premises and personal information in a federal database, to buy microchip devices and attach them to every single one of their animals (each of which gets its very own 15-digit federal ID number), to log and report each and every ‘event’ in the life of each animal, to pay fees for the privilege of having their location and animals registered, and to sit still for fines of up to $1,000 a day for any noncompliance.”

Whoa. It does so many, many objectionable things, one almost naturally skips right over the far and away most poisonous part. Putting aside the onerousness and impossibility of logging and reporting all events and movement of animals and the huge fines, the real kicker is this: it would “compel all owners of [farm] animals register their premises….”

Mr. Hightower is mistaken, however, that the information would be put “in a federal database.” It would be into a privately-owned corporate database, out of reach of a public records request. Farmers raise this central question in a highly informative article called The Amish and the bailout?

A few urban folk may still picture farmers as hay-chewing rednecks, but clearly they were thinking hard as they chewed because they appear to have been sharp as pitchforks at sniffing out what may be the largest government trickery in US history.

What, farmers ask, are “premises?” It is not an international term? And with premises, is a person merely a stakeholder in land, not an owner? Is this, farmers inquired of the USDA, different from “property” which is a constitutional term in which one owns one’s land? And in signing onto premises, wouldn’t farmers be signing their land onto an international contract and in the process be losing their property rights as landowners but become mere stake holders?

And for whom would they be holding the stake?

Some think a good guess might be the IMF, the Fed, the World Bank, or even the Chinese. George Soros has been buying up farmland across the midwest at low prices after the floods. He is also selling gold and buying farmland. Land is where it’s at.

Do the bankers who took our homes, our jobs, our manufacturing, our economy, now want the land itself?

Sometime back, a man named Wayne Hage suggested that our land is collateral on the national debt.

Is that correct? Does President Obama’s Executive Order 13575 further these aims?

Is the USDA forcing our farmers and ranchers (and any of us with a chicken) into international contracts in readiness for a government default? Funny how that sounds remarkably like the Rockefellers’ (bankers) UN Agenda 21. No property rights and no people on the land at all. Have the bankers and corporations created the debt which pushed us into debt in the first place, set the country up for a default in order to take over our land?

The right to choose our food is a fundamental human right and people are now realizing it’s at risk, but there can be no food and thus no rights at all, without the land.

Stopping premises ID comes first. It’s everything.

Ignore the occasional misplaced concern about pesticides and golf courses, and remember that these conservatives saw the fundamental threat of UN Agenda 21 long ago, so even if they drop the dart a few times, they get the bulls-eye when they throw. This video on UN Agenda 21 shows what is planned with land and property rights for everyone.

The Denver Post

As USDA turns to ear tags over brands, cattle ranchers fear end of tradition

Ordway rancher John Reid holds some of the irons he uses to brand livestock on his ranch, the Reid Cattle Co. The USDA is expected to release new interstate rules requiring individual cattle to be identified by a number stamped on an ear tag. (Aaron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post )

The future of the hot-iron brand, an icon of Western heritage, is at the center of a nearly decade-long battle over cattle identification and traceability.

“It’s the latest hot lightning rod,” said John Reid, an Ordway rancher who is past president of the Colorado Independent Cattle Growers Association.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected soon to release a draft of new regulations, which will remove the hot-iron brand from its list of official identification for cattle sold or shipped across state lines.

The new rules will require each animal to be identified by a number stamped on a removable ear tag.

States would still be able to use brands as official IDs within their boundaries.

Individual agreements between states can be reached to allow brands as official IDs for interstate movement — more complications.

Critics fear this is the beginning of the end for America’s centuries-old branding tradition.

“The federal government’s action sends a signal to the entire industry that the ear tag is a superior means of identification,” said Bill Bullard, chief executive of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund.

Ranchers argue that ear tags can fall off or be stolen by thieves, so are not a good form of official ID.

State brand commissioner Rick Wahlert said nothing will change for the state’s cattle producers.

However, the new system is a critical element of participation in the interstate beef market, he said.

Negative reaction to the new rules, he said, “is really about change, and a fear of the government being in your business.”

Gerald Schreiber, a third-generation rancher in northeastern Colorado, already uses ear tags for identification within the herd but bristles at the new regulations.

“It sounds good on the surface, but anytime you get the Big Brother approach, I don’t trust it,” he said. “The brand has worked for 1000 years, I don’t know why they want to disregard it. In the West, branding is more than just a tradition; it’s our identity as ranches.”

First proposed in 2002, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) was rolled out in 2004, but flatly rejected in USDA listening sessions by over 90% of the cattle producers.

Producers across the country are skeptical about the new program, which would require radio-frequency ear tags that would let cattle be tracked from slaughterhouse to birth.

Their concerns ranged from potential costs to confidentiality of information, including fears that animal-rights advocates would be able to gain information on ranchers through the use of the federal Freedom of Information Act.

“It got pretty ugly,” said Ordway rancher Reid.

From 2004 to 2009, the USDA spent $142 million on NAIS, according to a Congressional Research Service report to Congress. Because it was a voluntary program, less than 30 percent of cattle producers participated.

In February 2010, the USDA announced it was abandoning NAIS due to mass rejection by livestock producers. Now a new name and a new program has evolved called Animal Disease Traceability.

Loss of tradition

The draft of the proposed USDA rule was due in April but has been delayed. It is now expected to be released within weeks, followed by a 60- to 90-day period of public comment. It will take an additional 12 to 15 months before the final rule is released.

“Americans want two things,” Rohr said. “They want to know their food is safe, and they have an interest in knowing where their food comes from.”

Still, the plan to remove the hot-iron brand as an official method of ID across state lines has angered Westerners, who worry about a loss of tradition and the addition of more red tape to their businesses.

“The piece of the deal that is awfully hard for producers to understand is that most disease comes from meat processing plants more than individual cattle or cattle herds.” Reid said.

The brand is the oldest and more permanent form of herd identification, while ear tags, with their unique numbers, can easily fall off in brush and trucks where cattle frequent.

“So the question is,” said Reid, “do we need individual ID or is herd ID enough?”

Is the HSUS really humane? Is it a group designed to solicit millions from animal lovers and at the same time destroy ranchers and farmers who own and care for most American animals? Watch this short film for the facts. Brad

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJUiSjSw0Gc&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Seattle PI

Western Rangers fight push to give up brands

Craig and Mary K. Vejraska pose at their cattle ranch June 17, 2011, in Omak, Wash. They support the use of cattle brands in a new animal identification program. Photo: Shannon Dininny / AP

Craig and Mary K. Vejraska pose at their cattle ranch June 17, 2011, in Omak, Wash. They support the use of cattle brands in a new animal identification program. Photo: Shannon Dininny / AP

OMAK, Wash. (AP) — Ranchers have long used brands to keep track of their cattle and deter rustlers, but many now fear branding will become just another relic of the Old West as federal regulators look for new ways to track meat from hoof to plate.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been trying for years to develop a program that would allow regulators to pinpoint animals’ location with 48 hours of a disease possibility. The political pressure has become greater as other nations demand the U.S. adapt a costly electronic system to trace exported meat back to the farm. Other countries are attempting to enforce a government numbering system, such as Canada and Australia, hoping for a competitive advantage which is not yet proven.

After seeing little success with a voluntary tracking program, the USDA has said it will require farmers and ranchers to be able to trace all livestock and meat shipped or sold across state lines. The USDA’s final proposal is due out this summer, and while it’s leaving it up to states and tribes to decide what kind of tracking to implement, it’s pushing for high-cost ear tags.

Whether states also want to recognize brands is up to them, said Abby Yigzaw, spokeswoman for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

That’s not enough for some cattle ranchers, who are angered by what they see as big-footing by the federal government. Ranchers note that brands are permanent, while ear tags can fall out. But more than anything, support for brands is about holding on to a piece of the past that is proven to work economically.

“It’s just one of the things that keeps the honest people honest,” said Craig Vejraska, whose cattle sport the letter V, surrounded by a circle, on their left flank as they roam across 300,000 acres of tribal and national forest in Washington state. “It’s a tradition.”

Bill Bullard of R-Calf USA, an advocacy group for ranchers, said brands provide a permanent means of identification that has proven instrumental in helping track cases of brucellosis and eradicate it from the domestic herd.

“We find this decision outrageous that the USDA would level a direct attack on what is an iconic symbol of our industry and what has been a tried, proven and effective means of conducting disease trace backs,” Bullard said.

One reason federal officials haven’t embraced brands is that they aren’t used nationwide, said Bill Donald, a Melville, Mont., rancher and current president of the National Cattlemen‘s Beef Association, which represents both ranchers and meatpackers. Fewer than 20 states enforce brand laws to keep tabs on cattle, and nearly all are in the West or Midwest. However, the Department of Agriculture does record a registered brand in every state and charges a fee.

Brands are used in the East, even though ranches are smaller and herds don’t graze on public lands. They still help prevent theft.

Brands haven’t been needed in the East, where farms are smaller and herds don’t graze on public lands.

“Being from a brand state in Montana, I have learned firsthand that our animal trace back should include brand laws,” Donald said. “But they should all be used to complement a national system of identification.”

In Texas, the nation’s No. 1 beef producer, brands are registered at the county level, which means there could be duplicates within the state. For that reason, members of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association understand the USDA’s position, said Eldon White, the group’s executive vice president. But, they also don’t want brands eliminated.

Cattle rancher Craig Vejraska shows off one of his brands at his ranch in Omak, Wash. on June 17, 2011. Vejraska supports the use of cattle brands in a new animal identification program. Photo: Shannon Dininny / AP

Cattle rancher Craig Vejraska shows off one of his brands at his
ranch in Omak, Wash. on June 17, 2011. Vejraska supports the use of
cattle brands in a new animal identification program.
Photo: Shannon Dininny
/ AP

“Brands are a very important method of owner identification in Texas and will continue to be so,” White said. “We would be very concerned and would fight against a movement to eliminate the use of brands altogether.”

But the prospect of pairing brands with some other means of identification hasn’t mollified Western ranchers like Vejraska.

As his pickup bounced along a rutted, dirt road in the Okanogan National Forest, Vejraska pointed out cattle that bear his brand grazing in a meadow. Ear tags that dangle can easily get lost when animals graze in brush, next to fence lines or in harsh weather out on the range, he said.

“Our brand is 50 years old. It’s an essential identifier up here when you’re on the range,” he said. “I see my circle-V, and I know it’s mine.”

Note: In this discourse the rancher’s point-of-view takes a look back from the dusty corral at a herd of people with their hands in the semen tank, who feel no pain. People are walking away with millions of cattlemen’s dollars while even select politicians and cattle people themselves condone this high-level heist! A robbery is sweet and kind if it is done with good intentions — right? No . . . WRONG!

Cowboy Makeover

By Lee Pitts

Lee PittsThe American rancher had to be forced into the chair at the beauty salon with a wild rag stuffed in his mouth and a pair of hobbles on his ankles so he couldn’t run away, but the career bureaucrats and professional meeting-goers were finally successful in completing the makeover. It was expensive and they had to be real sneaky about it, but those performing the makeover have finally managed to change two of the most iconic figures in our nation’s colorful history, the cowboy and the cattleman, into “stakeholders” and “producers.”

There’s just one BIG problem with this makeover: the American consumer doesn’t want to buy her beef from a “stakeholder,” or even a “producer.” No, according to market researcher Mary Love Quinlan, they want their beef from a “rancher,” or even better yet, from a “farmer.”

Ms. Quinlan found that women make up to 93% of food purchases and they don’t like words such as “feed additive” on the package. They hate hormones and the title “cattle feeder” turns them off. In fact, they don’t like industrialized agriculture very much at all. So why is the NCBA trying to change today’s rancher into exactly that kind of “stakeholder” that the consumer doesn’t want to do business with?

Makeup and Mirrors

We warned you about the merger of the NCA with the checkoff and all the bad things that could happen as a result (those things are now happening) so let us now warn you about a group called the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). This group is composed of 33 organizations such as the National Corn Growers Association, American Farm Bureau, NCBA, National Milk, the Soybean Association, Grains Council Poultry & Egg, several state soybean associations, the National Pork Producers Council and other checkoff groups. Although these organizations say they have different viewpoints on some issues, they have this in common: they’re all cheerleaders for the kind of industrialized agriculture the consumer doesn’t trust.

As critics of factory farms, genetically modified seeds, hothouse hogs, downer cows and hormone fed steers appear on the daytime TV shows and book bestseller lists, those pushing industrialized ag realized that they’re losing the public relations war. In other words, they need a makeover.

How ironic then that the group that changed ranchers into stakeholders and producers, chose the trusted words “farmer” and “rancher” when they went looking for their own new name. But instead of looking for alternatives to hormones, GMO’s, 10,000 head dairies, lake-size manure lagoons and other things the consumer doesn’t want her food associated with, the USFRA wants to continue to do all those things while hiding behind the good name and image of the American farmer and rancher.

Members of USFRA say they want to build trust in our current food system and to be successful and have a bigger impact they all needed to band together. They view themselves as “natural partners in effort to promote “new” vision of American agriculture.” And that’s how checkoff dollars from a rancher producing grass fed or natural beef in Montana could end up being used to defend and promote factory farm hothouse pigs, hormone fed beef and milk inducing hormones for dairy cattle.

Sound Familiar?

One of the first warning flags that got our attention about USFRA is their structure and the way they constructed their Board of Directors. The minimum buy-in is $50,000 and any firm that pays $500,000 automatically becomes an ex-officio member of the Board. That’s what passes for democracy these days, you buy your way in, just like they do in Washington D.C. How very American of them. If it all sounds familiar that’s because that’s how the NCBA constructed itself and does business.

The beef checkoff so far has contributed $250,000 to USFRA. Because the beef checkoff is a government program (according to the Supreme Court) you’d think that our government would not condone any effort to promote one type of ranching system over another. But the USDA has given their stamp of approval to USFRA just as long as the checkoff money is used for projects and not membership dues.

One wonders where the NCBA got the money to buy their seat on the Board?

As of this writing only two businesses have ponied up the cash to join, Farm Credit and The Fertilizer Institute, but USFRA hopes to sign up big corporations like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, DuPont and Monsanto. USFRA currently has $10 million in the bank and hopes to spend $20 million in its first year. They also hope to have an annual budget of $30 million, most of it coming from agri-businesses and checkoffs.

USFRA plans to start presenting their message by mid-July and we already have a good idea of what that message will be and the image they’ll portray of today’s rancher. “No longer,” says visionary ag columnist Alan Guebert, “will it resemble a Land Grant alumnus ordering GM seed or livestock antibiotics on an iPhone. Instead, tomorrow’s farmer will look more like Walter Cronkite than Walter Mitty: weathered, wise, trustworthy. In short, more golden fields, golden sunsets and golden hair and less silver hog barns, silver-sided food factories and silver semis hauling ethanol.”

SuperGroup

Executive members of USFRA are Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau; Phil Bradshaw, Soybean Checkoff; Bart Schott, National Corn Growers Association; Dale Norton, Pork Checkoff; Gene Gregory, United Egg; Forrest Roberts, CEO of the NCBA. Roberts will also chair USFRA’s Communications Advisory Committee.

What chance does a rancher’s organization like R CALF or the Organization for Competitive Markets, stand in having their message heard when you have the political muscle of big farm groups, commodity checkoff dollars, huge agribusiness firms and the minions who do their dirty work, all rolled into one SuperGroup? It’s all part of that “speaking with one voice” thing that the NCBA was founded upon. The only problem is whose voice the supergroup will be speaking with. From watching the NCBA we already know that answer: it’s whoever ponies up the most money. Even if it is your money that was taxed away from you by the USDA in the form of the checkoff.

How did we ever get so far away from the initial concept of the beef checkoff?

To avoid confrontation USFRA has decided to take two issues off their agenda: biofuels and the Farm Bill. Instead, they will focus on “presenting a more realistic and positive portrayal of modern American agriculture to the public.” It’s a good thing they took those two issues off their agenda because, as we all know, checkoff dollars are not supposed to be used for lobbying or to promote political agendas. (Wink, wink.)

According to Guebert, “the groups want the face of the small farmer and horse-riding rancher to be the public face of agriculture–not confinement hog barns, 100,000-head cattle feedlots; not manure lagoons, eroded fields, hypoxic rivers, lakes and oceans, not GM seed, not sub-therapeutic antibiotics. In other words, the big money behind USFRA wants to preserve and build upon the exact thing the public doesn’t want: modern food production practices it views as questionable, worrisome and even unnecessary.”

In announcing the firm of Ketchum as their public relations firm USFRA said, “Reflecting the new world of Facebook, Twitter and 24/7 tweeting, Ketchum is partnered with Zocalo Group, its full service word of mouth and social media agency, and Maslansky Luntz + Partners, a research-driven communication strategy firm that specializes in “language and message development.”

How very sad that the American rancher and cowboy, whose image and reputation have sold everything from cigarettes to war bonds, now has to hire a firm to develop its “language.”

The Way Big Business Does Business

Randy Stevenson of OCM remembers another time when big business sat down to pow wow. It was back in the early 1900’s when the Big Four meatpackers conspired to control meat prices. Back then they changed the face of American agriculture and had to be broken up by the government. Supposedly, the rules written back then prohibited meatpackers from being in the same room talking about industry matters, but it’s very easy to see them doing this at future USFRA meetings. “Meatpackers have had a history of collusion,” says Stevenson. “They have changed tactics and methods when they have been caught. The collusion is not restricted to that of market division or of price setting. Much effort has, in more recent years, turned to organizational power used to influence the regulatory regimen. The modern version of collusive power is the big and influential organization that influences politicians and helps to make sure that the rules written for regulating anticompetitive behavior don’t bother them.”

No doubt, USFRA will say their money will not be used for such diabolical purposes, but then, who ever thought that the NCBA would be the primary beneficiary of checkoff dollars when ranchers voted it in? Or that there’d even be such a thing as the NCBA?

Hijacked

All this image enhancement is going on amidst a war that has been taking place between the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the Federation of State Beef Councils and the NCBA. According to R CALF, “There is an intense, lopsided, but classic power struggle being waged right now within the Beef Checkoff Program. This is the classic power structure between those who have all the money — the NCBA and its state affiliates — and those who pay all the money — the hundreds of thousands of checkoff-paying cattle producers throughout the United States.” (That would be “stakeholders for you NCBA members.) “Hinging on the outcome is whether the Beef Checkoff Program will be continually fraught with corruption, favoritism, and abuse, or whether the credibility of the program will be restored.”

“The beef checkoff has been in place for some 25 years,” says Fred Stokes, of the Organization for Competitive Markets, “with more than $1.6 billion collected and spent. Just how effective has the program been in “promoting, improving, maintaining and developing markets for cattle, beef, and beef products? Not very!” answers Fred. “During this period we have lost market share, downsized the domestic cow herd, drastically reduced the producer’s share of the retail beef dollar and put nearly 500,000 beef cattle operations out of business.

“So was the Beef Checkoff a bad idea?” Stokes asks. “I say it was a good idea that simply got hijacked! While producers have been compelled to pay the sum of $80 million per year, the overwhelming benefit has accrued to organizations controlled by opposing big meat packing and retailer interests,” according to Stokes.

“An examination of NCBA’s tax form 990 reveals that 80% of its total revenue is derived from the beef checkoff, with only 6% coming from membership dues.” In other words says Stokes, “the NCBA, representing less than 4% of cattle producers, continues as the primary beef checkoff contractor and has a prominent seat at the table when ag policy is discussed. They have opposed cattle producer’s interests at every turn. They fought against cattle producers that supported country-of-origin labeling; against cattle producers seeking mandatory price reporting; against cattle producers that opposed the National Animal Identification System (NAIS); against cattle producers that supported captive supply reform in a major class-action lawsuit; against cattle producers that tried to prevent the premature reintroduction of imported cattle from disease-affected countries; against cattle producers that attempted to ban packer ownership of livestock in both the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills.”

Most recently they have fought against ranchers who support the pending GIPSA rules that would go a long way in reducing the packer’s power to manipulate prices.

All this is not to suggest that there have not been BIG beneficiaries of the beef checkoff. There certainly have been, like Dee Likes of the Kansas Livestock Association who the Comstock Report said received $311,000 for one year’s work. Another employee was paid over $225,000 and yet another over $150,000. “KLA’s CEO, Dee Likes, makes more money than Governor Brownback running the 14 billion dollar state of Kansas,” said the Comstock Report. “Likes can certainly give lessons on how to rob the checkoff train.”

Such revelations have started people talking about what one editor called “the nuclear option.” That would be to hold a referendum and vote the checkoff down. But the USDA and NCBA will never let that happen. Instead the USDA will stand quietly by while the rancher’s pockets are picked and his name is used to sell an ag production system that he may neither condone, nor participate in.

In introducing Ketchum as USFRA’s PR firm, a company partner Linda Eatherton, said, “With over 50 years of service to food and agricultural organizations, our firm was literally built for this assignment. Working side by side with USFRA members, stakeholders and allies, we know we can help people rethink the role of American agriculture in feeding hundreds of millions of Americans every day.”

So there you have it in black and white. In the words of your newest spokesperson you are either an ally or a stakeholder.

Which one, we wonder, are you?