Browsing Posts tagged -calf

Whose Country Is This?

by Lee Pitts

Lee Pitts is the Executive Editor of the Livestock Market Digest. His internationally syndicated columns and nine best selling books combine unflinching political commentary, humor, and serious livestock coverage with commentary blessed by a life time of experience. No one argues with Lee about the cattle business because he has been in the corrals and has scrapped a lot of "Stuff" off his boots many times. That is what it takes to gain authority, and he has.

There’s just something particularly galling about a secretive international tribunal telling a country, any country, what it can and cannot do. That’s especially true when a controversial trade organization tells us that we cannot inform the American consumer where her food came from.

According to every survey we’ve seen the vast majority of American consumers want labels on their food informing them of its origin. Some survey indicated that as many as 90 percent of American consumers want such country of origin (COOL) labels. Additionally, every survey we’ve ever seen indicates that the vast majority American ranchers also want the beef they raise to be labeled as being produced in the good old U.S. of A. So when American grocers finally began putting COOL labels on cuts of beef, lamb, chicken, pork, and hamburger it seems everyone got what they wanted. Everyone that is except the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the beef packer’s lobby, the National Pork Producers and an organization that most Americans know little about, the World Trade Organization.

Unfortunately for the ranchers and consumers it is this latter group, the WTO, who will decide whether or not American consumers and ranchers will get their wish to have the meat they produce and consume labeled as to country of origin.

How and why we in America ever gave an organization located in Geneva, Switzerland, the right to tell us what we can and cannot do is a dirty little secret being kept by supposedly patriotic American politicians, lobbyists and multinational American-based corporations who don’t want you to know any more about them than they do the food you eat.

I Pledge Allegiance To The WTO

Opponents of country-of-origin-labeling say it is nothing more than a protectionist trade measure that we are using to discourage imports. And these critics might have a point if all the food in the world was the same and was produced under the same rigid health and environmental standards. But clearly it is not. As proof we offer up milk from China that was contaminated with melamine, European and Canadian mad cows, four legged Mexican TB carriers and South American bovines with Foot and Mouth disease.

We’d like to point out amidst all the brouhaha that country of origin labeling does not stop one single animal from entering this country, nor does it prevent any country from selling us beef. Of these facts there can be no debate. What COOL does do is give the American consumer the ability to find out where the food she feeds her family came from. The decision on whether or not to buy foreign or domestic beef lies solely with her, not some bureaucrats at a meeting in Cancun. That’s why we were devastated after years of watching COOL work its way through the bureaucratic and political morass that after it was finally put in place the WTO said last November that it was illegal. Not according to American laws, but according to theirs.

I don’t remember the founding fathers ever mentioning the WTO, do you? I can’t find it anywhere in the Constitution or The Bill of Rights, nor do I recall ever getting a chance to vote on its leaders, or having a say in its proceedings. I can find no evidence that any of our founding fathers were members in good standing of the WTO.

Such is the sad state of American politics these days that we held out little hope that anyone in our government would challenge the WTO’s COOL ruling, so we were surprised and pleased when the office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced that it was appealing the WTO ruling against the U.S. mandatory COOL law.

One Family’s Food Fight

After COOL was put in place as a result of provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill, Canada then requested consultations with U.S. trade representatives in December of 2008 concerning their objections to it. Canada alleged at the time that the mandatory COOL was inconsistent with the United States’ obligations under the WTO Agreement.

Shortly thereafter, Mexico and Nicaragua announced they had problems with COOL, too, and requested to join the consultations. Then on November 19, 2009, a three-person WTO panel was formed and eventually came to the conclusion that yes, Canada and Mexico were right and that we had no right to implement COOL in the first place. The WTO panel determined that the COOL measure “is a technical regulation and that it is inconsistent with the United States’ WTO obligations.” In particular, the panel found that as a result of COOL we gave less favorable treatment to imported Canadian and Mexican cattle and hogs than to like domestic products.

By the words “less favorable treatment” we can only assume that the WTO meant that because American consumers would theoretically prefer domestic product over a foreign one, that COOL created a premium for U.S. beef and pork and a discount for Canadian and Mexican meat. Which, if you’ll recall, was the exact point made by COOL supporters to begin with. And the premiums recently being given to age and sourced domestic cattle seem to back that up, after all, those premiums are not all the result of our export market. Those cattle aren’t all being sold to Japan and Korea.

The WTO was created in the first place by one-worlders who think there should be no geopolitical boundaries and that we are all just one big happy family. To hear them tell it, all this fuss over COOL is just a food fight amongst family members.

A party can appeal a WTO panel’s ruling and due to the marriage of big business and government these days in Washington, we had little hope of that happening when it came to COOL. But on the last day an appeal could be filed came word of one. Now comes a two to three-month WTO process where yet another panel will meet behind closed doors to consider the appeal. (WTO appeals have to be based on points of law, such as legal interpretation — they cannot reopen factual findings made by the panel.)

As a result of the appeal we found out that the WTO never said in the first place that the U.S. does not have the right under WTO rules to adopt mandatory COOL. No, what the three-person panel didn’t like was the way COOL “provided less favorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican livestock producers.” They also did not like that “the COOL statute is more trade restrictive than necessary.” In other words, they did not like the fact that lo and behold, American consumers did actually prefer American beef and pork over imported beef.

Whose Side Are They On?

As to be expected from an organization that seems to be more interested in looking out for the interests of big packers than they do American ranchers, the NCBA quickly expressed their disappointment that the U.S. would even dare to file an appeal. “We are very disappointed in this decision,” said NCBA vice president Bob McCann. “Instead of working diligently to bring the United States into WTO compliance, our government has opted to engage in an appeal process, which jeopardizes our strong trade relationship with Canada and Mexico, the two largest importers of U.S. beef, An appeal is the wrong answer and a waste of valuable resources, This appeal will do nothing but escalate tension with our valuable trade partners and will prolong an issue that could be resolved quickly. We should be working toward a solution instead of creating a bigger problem.

“NCBA will engage with Canada and Mexico in order to prevent any retaliatory action that could occur from this unfortunate decision made by the U.S. government.”

Concluded NCBA’s McCann, “Cattlemen deserve a government that fights for and protects our opportunities. We need a government that not only demands WTO compliance of our trade partners but one that ensures the United States is abiding by these same guidelines.”

That bears repeating; in the words of the NCBA, what we need is a government that “demands WTO compliance.” One would think from such statements that the NCBA was getting its funding from the governments and stock raiser’s groups in Canada and Mexico, rather than the $50 million it gets each year from Beef Checkoff, funds paid overwhelmingly by American ranchers. (That 50 million dollars represents 80 percent of NCBA’s total revenue.) It should also be noted that the packers in the U.S. want their cheap imports to still be marked with a USDA inspection label to fool customers into thinking it’s a domestic product. The packers sure are getting a big bang for the buck they DON’T HAVE TO PAY to the checkoff.

Word Games

As you’d expect, R-CALF, who worked extremely hard to get COOL implemented, had a different take on the WTO appeal than the NCBA. “We’re extremely thankful that our U.S. Trade Representative has chosen to defend our constitutionally-passed COOL law,” said R-CALF COOL Committee Chair, Mike Schultz. “But, we’re in a no-win situation regarding this frontal attack on our COOL law because our nation should not tolerate for an instant a foreign entity’s efforts to undermine our constitutionally-passed domestic laws in the first place.”

As for NCBA’s role in the process, R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard had this to say: “Several powerful corporate industry groups are actually supporting the WTO’s efforts to undermine our U.S. COOL law, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the American Meat Institute (AMI). These groups don’t want U.S. consumers to know if they are buying beef produced exclusively in the United States or if their beef was produced in Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, or any one of the more than a dozen countries where U.S. corporations source their beef.”

Like us, R-CALF’s Bullard had a problem with the WTO panel word game in which they said, that yes, the United States has a right to implement a COOL program but that we implemented it in the wrong way. (They don’t say what is the right way.)

“This is nothing more than semantics,” said Bullard. “and the WTO is far too coy to have attacked our domestic law in any other way than it did. The fact is that the WTO accomplished its objective by ruling on the one hand that COOL was too rigid and treated foreign product less favorably than domestic product, but on the other hand, it ruled that COOL was too flexible and therefore nullified the COOL law’s objective.”

Our government is sure sending mixed messages to cattlemen these days. On one hand the USDA wants to be able to track our livestock from birth to the grocery store so that they supposedly can protect the consumer from foreign diseases, while on the other hand they don’t want supermarkets to tell their customers what country the meat they are selling came from. Is all this making sense to anyone?

“Nonsensical and Baseless”

In theory, members of the WTO gain access to each other’s markets on even terms. This means that no two nations can have sweetheart trade pacts without granting the same terms to every other nation, or at least every other nation in WTO. Granted, that’s a great concept and a worthy goal. But since the WTO was founded in 1995 it has proven that’s not at all what they are about. Some analysts have called the WTO, “The most powerful legislative and judicial body in the world.” What makes the WTO so powerful is that its rules can be enforced through trade sanctions. If, for example, the U.S. loses its appeal over COOL and then does not change or eliminate COOL, then we can be fined, or have trade sanctions imposed against us. In some cases WTO can even exact their pound of flesh by punishing industries not even remotely related to the one in question. This gives the WTO more power than any other international body, even eclipsing national governments like our own.

One look at their history shows the WTO has invariably chosen the agenda of multinational corporations above the interests of local communities, the environment, and working folks. Like the United Nations and the World Bank (who they work hand-in-glove with) the WTO has undermined democracy around the world by promoting the concept of a one-world government. And they do so in secret. While the WTO says that transparency is one of their goals, they often meet behind locked doors, especially after 50,000 people showed up at their meeting in Seattle in 1999 after watching the WTO prove to be just a cheerleader for multinational corporations. Those protesters successfully shut down that WTO meeting but rather than make reforms, the WTO instead just made their meetings and deliberations even more secretive.

It’s hard to find a fan of the WTO. The left sees the WTO as lobbyist for big business, while the right says they should get out of the way and let companies and countries do business on a deal-by-deal basis. Fortunately for all of us, the WTO hasn’t exactly been a raging success.

So stay tuned, a decision on the appeal to WTO’s ruling on COOL is expected within the next 60 days. In anticipation of that event R-CALF’s Mike Schultz says, “The WTO’s anti-COOL ruling is nonsensical and baseless and we are confident the United States will prevail in this unenviable appeal.”

Nonsensical and baseless, you say?

That’s the very definition of the World Trade Organization.

R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America

 

“Fighting for the U.S. ! Cattle Producer”

 

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

December 21, 2011                                                                                          Phone: 406-252-2516; r-calfusa@r-calfusa.com

 

8 Days (Now 10) of Opposition to USDA’s Proposed Mandatory Animal Identification Rule:  Part VIII of X-Part Series

Billings, Mont. – To minimize the size of the last scheduled news release in R-CALF USA’s 8-day series, R-CALF USA is extending the series for two more days. Each daily news release provides a detailed explanation of the reasons our members vehemently oppose the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS’) proposed mandatory animal identification rule titled, Traceability for Livestock Moving Interstate (proposed rule).

With this effort, R-CALF USA hopes to bring to light many of the dangerous aspects associated with the proposed rule that R-CALF USA described in its voluminous comments submitted to APHIS on Dec. 9, 2011. Click here to view the entire 41-page comment submitted by R-CALF USA, which includes all of the group’s citations to specific references that are removed from this news release to save space.

Part VIII:  APHIS’ Proposed Rule Is an Affront to the Cattle Industry’s Centuries-old Brand

 

  1. APHIS’ Proposed Rule Discriminates Against States that Require Brand Inspections and Brand Inspection Certificates as a Condition for Leaving a Brand Inspection Area and Discriminates Against Cattle Producers Within Those States that Pay for and Rely on Brands and Brand Certificates to Identify Their Cattle

 

  1. APHIS’s proposed rule ignores the historical effectiveness, functionality and permanence of the hot-iron brand as a means of identifying cattle and groups of cattle.

 

APHIS is acutely aware of the superior permanence of the hot-iron brand as compared to ear tags.  In its final rule to allow the importation of Canadian cattle 30 months of age or older (OTM rule), APHIS distinguishes brands as “permanent identification,” while separately requiring, in addition to permanent identification, an official ear tag to be placed in imported Canadian cattle (EXHIBIT 24, p. 53378 col. 1). In fact, ear tags are not even mentioned as acceptable means of permanent identification, with only freeze brands, hot-iron brands, and tattoos expressly listed among the acceptable, permanent means of identification (EXHIBIT 24, p. 53378 col. 1). In addition to permanent identification, the OTM rule also requires the individual identification with an official ear tag of the country of origin (EXHIBIT 24, p. 53378 co! l. 1).

 

APHIS’ purpose for requiring permanent brands on Canadian cattle along with ear tags is succinctly explained in the OTM rule. APHIS stated, “We recognize that animals can lose eartags at various points in the process. . . (EXHIBIT 24, p. 53340 col. 1).”

 

The foregoing discussion reveals that for disease traceback purposes, even for cattle originating in regions that APHIS has deemed a “minimal-risk” for disease, APHIS requires a three-prong traceback system:  1) it requires the permanent identification of the animal using a brand or tattoo; 2) it requires individual identification with an official ear tag; and, 3) it requires visible information on the animal to denote the animal’s origin (EXHIBIT 24, p. 53379 col. 1).

 

R-CALF USA agrees that this three-prong traceback system is a science-based means of achieving functional traceability on livestock that may be subject to a disease investigation.  The system has needed redundancy to address the inherent propensity for ear tags to be lost, and it provides visible information that enables any person to identify the origin of the animal.

 

APHIS’ proposed rule fails completely to explain why the three identification elements needed from minimal-risk regions are not needed to provide a science-based traceback system for U.S. cattle. Nor does APHIS explain which of the three elements are most important to ensure the ability to conduct tracebacks, e.g., is it more important to have permanent identification or are loss-prone ear tags equally functional for disease tracebacks? And, APHIS fails completely to explain why the ability to visibly identify the origin of the animal is not even necessary for domestic traceback purposes.

 

If the requirement contained in the OTM rule is science-based, than the proposed requirements in the proposed rule are not.  This is because the proposed rule incorporates only one of the three elements required in the OTM rule, and the one it has incorporated is not even recognized by APHIS as a permanent form of identification. The proposed rule depends exclusively on an official ear tag that bears a U.S. shield and a number:  it does not require permanent identification (indeed it expels permanent identification from its list of official animal identification devices), and it does not require ear tags to bear visible information to i! dentify even the state from which the animal originated. APHIS further fails to explain why privately-owned U.S. cattle must bear a U.S. shield for the privilege of moving across a state line. Such a shield is of no use to disease investigators and if a shield is to be required at all, it should be the shield of the state from which the animal originated, at least then a person could immediately initiate a disease investigation by calling the animal heath officials in the state of origin should an animal be detected with a disease. Better yet, the animal should bear the shield of the property’s owner – which is precisely what is accomplished with a registered hot-iron brand.

 

APHIS contends it cannot require all states to accept brands because all states do not have brand inspection programs. At the same time, however, APHIS’ proposed rule requires all states to accept ear tags that do not allow any visible means with which to ascertain the origin of an animal. For example, the APHIS approved 840 ear tag does not contain an identifier that denotes the state of origin.  Therefore, an animal health official without immediate access to an expensive, electronic wand or a national database has no means of initiating an immediate traceback of the animal. On the other hand, if an animal was transported to a state with a brand, then the animal health official could immediately narrow the animal’s potential origin to those states that have a ! recognized brand authority that issues brand certificates. APHIS is disingenuous in its claim that non-brand states cannot accept brands while it simultaneously requires non-wand states to accept 840 electronic tags.

 

APHIS’ proposed identification requirements for cattle lack any scientific justification. APHIS has thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water by refusing to adopt even the core elements of current U.S. disease programs that APHIS itself acknowledges were “tremendously successful” in the agency’s efforts to eradicate brucellosis.. See 76 Fed. Reg. 50081, col. 3. The highly successful brucellosis program, not surprisingly, incorporated each of the three prongs APHIS requires of Canada:  1) the program recognized brands as official identification, which provided a high level of redundancy; 2) the program required an official ear tag! ; and, 3) the ear tag contained visible information with which to immediately identify the state of origin.

APHIS’ claim that its goal is to shorten the time necessary to conduct disease tracebacks is proved false by APHIS’ failure to adopt the historically proven, simple, and visible state identifier, such as two-digit numeric code that denotes the tag’s state of origin, on all of its approved ear tags.

 

The role of the permanent brand in contributing to the United States’ “tremendously successful” disease program is profound. In a March 9, 2010, article by James C. Clement, D.V.M., Cow-Calf Research & Consulting, Dr. Clement explains the profound contribution that brands and brand programs make to generating animal tracking data every day, along with describing how critical tracking data are compiled.  Dr. Clement states:

 

Animal tracking data is generated every day in Brand States and is the byproduct of routine record-keeping processes that involve cattle marketing businesses and SBIS [State Brand Inspection Systems]. SBIS create inspection certificates associated with the movement of 27,000,000 head of livestock (primarily cattle) on an annual basis (EXHIBIT 25).

 

APHIS cites no study, nor does it have any nationwide experience in conducting animal disease tracebacks without relying upon the animal tracking data generated by brand states. Indeed, APHIS has not cited any system in the world that can hold a candle to the brand states’ ongoing generation of animal tracking data for 27 million head of livestock, primarily cattle, which represents about one-third of the entire U.S. population of cattle and calves.

 

APHIS has no scientific basis for delisting the hot-iron brand accompanied by a certificate from a recognized brand authority from the list of official animal identification devices or methods, or in any way demoting the hot-iron brand to a level below any other form of animal identification.

 

Based on the hot-iron brand’s role in generating animal tacking data for tens of millions of livestock, APHIS’ proposed rule that delists the brand from the list of official animal identification devices will reduce the United State’s ability to timely trace disease suspects to the disease source.

 

R-CALF USA encourages readers to share this information with their neighbors, state animal health officials, and their members of Congress. 

The U.S. National Animal Identification System (NAIS) & the U.S. Beef-Cattle Sector: A Post-Mortem Analysis of NAIS

Rhonda Skaggs

New Mexico State University United States of America

1. Introduction

The appearance of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States in late 2003 resulted in severe economic impacts to the U.S. livestock sector. U.S. exports of beef and live cattle were immediately embargoed by importing countries as a result of BSE, and markets have not fully recovered eight years later. The trade status of the U.S. beef and cattle sectors was severely harmed when trading partners used BSE as justification for increased protectionism. The trade response to one BSE-infected cow and the desire to protect the U.S. livestock industry’s economic interests enhanced concerns about intentional and accidental disease outbreaks. The first BSE-infected cow identified in the United States and ongoing fears that a virulent disease (foot and mouth disease, in particular) could cost billions and destroy the U.S. livestock sector led many people to conclude that a nationwide individual animal identification system was necessary. As a result, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) was set forth in early 2004 by a working group including both industry and government officials. The NAIS built on the National Animal Identification Plan initiated in 2002. The goal of the NAIS was nationwide 48-hour traceback of all livestock and poultry in the event of a disease emergency. The Animal Health Protection Act (AHPA) enacted with the 2002 Farm Bill set the legal stage for the federal government to be involved in the national animal identification effort. The 2002 AHPA includes language that indicates the federal government’s intention to expand regulation of livestock due to interstate commerce and related movements of pest or disease threats (O’Brien, 2006). The AHPA was interpreted as giving the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture the ability to prohibit all movement of livestock unless producers participated in the NAIS. The NAIS entailed three components: Premises registration, animal identification, and animal tracking. Premises registration was the assignation of a unique premises number to all facilities where animals are managed or held. Animal identification assigned a unique number to individual animals or lots in the case of animals that stay with the same group their entire lives. Animal tracking involved the collection of data for animal movements and the recording of those data in a central recordkeeping system which could be quickly and comprehensively accessed in the event of an animal health emergency. A 2005 USDA document indicated that the NAIS would begin as a voluntary program, but would become mandatory in 2009 (United States Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [USDA-APHIS], 2005). The USDA stated in a 2006 document that while the agency had the authority to make the system mandatory, it had chosen to make every component of NAIS voluntary at the federal level (USDA-APHIS, 2006a). In a 2008 report, the USDA designated cattle as the highest priority species with respect to NAIS implementation and presented revised timelines and benchmarks for NAIS progress by species (USDA-APHIS, 2008a). Implementation benchmarks for cattle were scaled down from previous NAIS documents, and the cattle implementation timeline was also extended. NAIS benchmarks were scaled back for other species, although not as much as for cattle. In June 2006 the USDA published a document intended to provide guidance for “noncommercial” livestock producers and their position within the NAIS. This guide attempted to alleviate small-scale livestock producers’ concerns about the system, stating that NAIS participation was voluntary and that the NAIS would “largely focus on commercial operations and animals” (USDA-APHIS, 2006b). Critics of NAIS quickly pointed out that many statements in the report were inconsistent with other NAIS documents regarding the government’s plan to extend NAIS coverage to all livestock and livestock movements within the United States. The federal government issued numerous grants and cost-shares to states and tribes as inducements for premises registration and spent more than $120 million in the process; however, at the end of 2009, only 36% of premises were registered nationwide (USDAAPHIS, 2010). Some states achieved higher levels of premises registration by tying it to other state-level licenses or programs. In September 2008, the USDA issued a memorandum which stated that premises registration would be mandatory for emergency disease management or for state or federal activities involving diseases regulated through the Code of Federal Regulations. Although this memorandum was cancelled in December 2008, the USDA maintained that the federal government has broad authority to assign premises identification numbers as part of their normal animal health program activities. Recent livestock disease outbreaks in some states thus have resulted in mandatory NAIS participation for affected producers. In June 2009, federal funding for NAIS in its current form was dropped from the fiscal 2010 spending bill by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, with House leaders indicating that no future funds would be available for the program unless USDA developed and implemented a mandatory NAIS. The USDA conducted numerous NAIS “listening sessions” throughout the country in 2009 and received many more comments on NAIS at the Regulations.gov website. Since the inception of NAIS, the federal government has asserted that the future economic viability of the U.S. livestock industry rests on improved disease management through nationwide animal identification and traceability. However, over the last several years, many U.S. livestock producers raised concerns about the security and confidentiality of premises and animal data provided to the national system, increased liability on the part of producers as a result of traceback to the farm level, the costs of NAIS participation, and the overall feasibility of the system. Opponents of NAIS claimed it was unconstitutional, a violation of their property rights, inconsistent with religious beliefs, an invasion of their privacy, and a loss of freedom. They did not believe USDA’s assurances that NAIS information would not be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests or that use of the information would be restricted to animal health emergencies. The 2009 “listening sessions” were dominated by NAIS opponents, with a small minority of session participants speaking out in favor of the system. The comments posted at Regulations.gov were nearly unanimous against NAIS. In February 2010, the USDA announced that it was abandoning the NAIS (USDA-APHIS, 2010). The agency indicated that it was going to “revise prior animal identification policy and offer a new approach to achieving animal disease traceability” (USDA-APHIS, 2010). The new approach will apparently only apply to animals moving interstate, although the operational details of the approach have yet to be developed. The agency’s February 2010 Factsheet also stated that the new approach intends to “help overcome some of the mistrust caused by NAIS.” For almost a decade, proponents maintained that NAIS would protect producers’ animals, investments and neighbors, and that “as producers become increasingly aware of the benefits of the NAIS and the level of voluntary participation grows, there will only be less need to make the program mandatory” (USDA-APHIS, 2006a). The USDA stated that NAIS would help protect U.S. livestock and poultry from disease spread, maintain consumer confidence in the food supply, and retain access to domestic and foreign markets (USDAAPHIS, 2007). In 2010, the federal government was forced to admit that arguments in favor of NAIS had fallen flat with a large segment of U.S. livestock producers. The cattle industry was designated by the USDA as having the highest priority for full NAIS implementation; however, the cow-calf portion of the beef cattle sector was very resistant to NAIS (evidenced by continuously extended timelines and increasingly modest benchmarks for implementation). The economic, structural, and socio-cultural reasons for cow-calf producer resistance are the subject of the rest of this paper. If future livestock disease traceability efforts in the United States are to be successful (and disease catastrophes are to be avoided), it is absolutely essential that the context of cow-calf producer resistance to NAIS be fully understood. The objective of this paper is to describe the context and implications for the post-NAIS traceability framework.

2. Overview of U.S. agriculture and the beef-cattle sector

The history of U.S. agriculture is dominated by a relentless march toward increased concentration. Ever fewer numbers of farms are producing an ever larger percentage of total agricultural output. Of the 2.2 million farms enumerated in the 2007 Census of Agriculture, 10% generate almost 85% of the value of all agricultural sales (United States Department of Agriculture – National Agricultural Statistics Service [USDA-NASS], 2009). The remaining 90% of farms are responsible for 15% of output value. U.S. agriculture wasn’t always this concentrated and much of the history of U.S. settlement and economic development is one of smallholders supporting their household through agricultural production, while generating a small marketable surplus. Technological changes occurring throughout the 19th and 20th centuries worked to increase productivity and drive down per unit production costs; new lands and resources were brought into production, and real prices for agricultural commodities plunged. As the relative purchasing power of raw agricultural commodities decreased, so did farm household incomes. Extreme structural upheaval occurred, many farms failed and millions of farm families exited agriculture. Their land was subsequently absorbed by survivor farms which grew larger. The remaining farms were successful as long as they managed to stay on the technology treadmill or otherwise survive decreasing real prices for their products. Consequently, many farm households now achieve acceptable income levels as a result of non-farm income sources. One-third of all U.S. farms have consistently negative net farm incomes and nearly 83% of total national farm household income in 2004 originated from off-farm sources (Hoppe et al., 2007). At first glance, it would seem that negative net farm incomes should prompt continued outmigration of people and resources from agriculture. But, it isn’t happening.

U.S. farm-level commodity production is very diverse although 98% of U.S. farms are family farms, organized as proprietorships, partnerships, or family corporations that do not have hired managers (Hoppe et al., 2007). U.S. family farms range from small limited resource operations, to the extremely large industrialized farms that account for the majority of farm-level production. The USDA estimated that in 2004 57% of U.S. farms were retirement or residential/lifestyle farms, and that these farms’ off-farm income as a share of total household income was 98% (Hoppe et al., 2007). According to the USDA, rural-residential farms account for only 7% of the value of production and include 35% of farm assets (including land). Small farms of all types, defined as having annual sales of less than $250,000, are 90% of farms, generate 25% of production value, and hold 68% of farm assets. Small farms, and especially retirement and residential/lifestyle farms, tend to specialize in the production of beef cattle, primarily cow-calf enterprises (Hoppe et al., 2007). There are several economic reasons for this specialization, including lower labor and management intensity (desirable to operators who are retired or who hold full-time non-farm jobs), relatively low cash costs of beef cattle production, and favorable tax treatment. Productivity gains in U.S. agriculture over the last century have been astounding. However, the beef cow-calf industry is a notable exception to the productivity increases which characterize agriculture overall. This is due to the biological limitations of bovine reproduction. The rate of reproduction in cattle continues to be stable and low, with one cow rarely producing more than one calf. Natural twin production continues to be an unusual occurrence in beef cattle herds, and often results in extra production costs and/or sterile female offspring. By comparison, the U.S. hog industry has been characterized by steady increases in piglets/litter and litters/sow/year. Genetic advances and the adoption of industrialized confinement production by the hog industry in the post-World War II era led to dramatic increases in productivity, decreases in real hog prices, and industry concentration. The lack of equivalent productivity gains in beef cattle production are reflected in the much less drastic decrease in the real purchasing power of the calf commodity over the last half century, and an unconcentrated cow-calf sector. The nature of the bovine digestive system also has contributed to relatively low productivity gains and limited adoption of capital and management intensive technologies in U.S. cow-calf production. Land-extensive calf production processes continue to be used in much of the cow-calf sector because the beef animal functions as a scavenger, using and transforming low value forages produced on marginal lands into a higher-valued product. Land-extensive production processes are generally not compatible with management intensive technologies, adoption of which is driven by the need and opportunity to increase returns per unit of capital and management input. Most of the advances in technology and increases in efficiency in the beef industry have occurred beyond the farm gate at the feeding and packing levels. The feedlot and meat packing sectors have dramatically increased in size and concentration to achieve economies of scale. The beef feeding sector is increasingly dominated by a small number of extremely large operations, while the four largest beef packers controlled 84% of the market in 2007 (Hendrickson and Heffernan, 2007).

The beef cow-calf sector is the foundation of the beef cattle industry. Cow-calf production is not concentrated, dispersed nationwide, and occurs in every state, with an estimated 33 million national beef cow inventory living on almost 765,000 farms and ranches (USDANASS, 2009). Cow-calf operations produce the calves (or the animal frames – including skeleton, internal organs, and hide) upon which the cattle feeding sector accumulates meat using higher energy feed resources (usually under confinement conditions). The USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) divides cow-calf producers into three groups: Those who have cow-calf herds primarily for income objectives (14% of producers), those whose beef cow-calf operation is a supplemental source of family income (72%), and those who keep cattle for some reason other than for providing family income (e.g., pleasure) (14%) (USDA-APHIS, 2008b). Differences in management practices for calving, animal health, feeding, marketing, and record keeping for different types of cow-calf operations are statistically significant and strikingly obvious in the NAHMS survey results (USDA-APHIS, 1998). Management of non-primary income herds is consistently less intensive, and productivity indicators for the herds are less favorable. The technologies used in cow-calf production have not changed greatly over the last century, although some advances in cow-calf productivity have been made through selective breeding, use of veterinary pharmaceuticals, and improved forage management. Cow-calf production in the United States continues to be characterized by low entry costs, low cash production costs, low technology requirements, and low management intensity. Cow-calf operations also have lower exit probabilities than other farm enterprises because of their compatibility with off-farm work (Hoppe & Korb, 2006). The technological stability of the U.S. cow-calf industry is evidenced by the small change in the average size of a U.S. beef cow herd over the last ~30 years (it went from 40 in 1974 to 43 in 2007) (USDA-NASS, 2009). By comparison, the average size of a U.S. milk cow herd went from 26 in 1974 to 133 in 2007. Nationally, almost 80% of U.S. beef cow-calf operations have fewer than 50 cows with these farms accounting for 29% of the country’s beef cow herd. Most research exploring U.S. cow-calf producers’ motivations has been conducted in the West by investigators interested in rangeland management and public land policy issues. For example, the desire to have a rural lifestyle was found to inflate the value of farms and ranches in the West (Gosnell & Travis, 2005) while a relatively small percentage of ranchland value can be explained by livestock income in the Southwest (Torell et al., 2005). Gentner & Tanaka (2002) found that half of western public land ranchers earn less than 22% of their total income from ranching, that a ranch business “profit motivation” is a relatively low-ranked objective for all types of ranchers, and that public land ranchers are strongly motivated to be in ranching for tradition, family, and lifestyle reasons (i.e., consumptive objectives). Similarly, Cash (2002) noted that most U.S. beef cattle producers are not actually in the business of farming. The multiple roles of livestock in traditional societies have long been recognized by anthropologists, human ecologists, and other social scientists. In traditional societies, livestock are mobile stores of wealth and status. And even though the United States has a very advanced economy, cattle continue to be viewed as “banks-on-the-hoof” by cow-calf producers (Eastman et al., 2000), who say that when they “need the money” is a key factor in determining when they market their cattle (Lacy et al., 2003). For many cow-calf producers, cattle and the land used to produce them are investments, savings, and financial safe-havens. Cattle provide emergency funds, and are also a stable supply of high quality meat for family consumption. Similar to their counterparts in traditional societies, cattle are also a source of identity and a cultural touchstone for many U.S. cow-calf producers. Pope (1987) concluded that “romance, recreation, the achievement of a desired social status, or simply the maintenance of a family tradition” are the primary motives for many western

U.S. cattle producers. Identity objectives are financially feasible, compatible with other lifestyle and household objectives, and are encouraged by the nation’s tax system. Lifestyle goals, particularly the desire to live in the country, were the most highly ranked strategic ranch goals among small-acreage livestock producers interviewed by Rowan (1994). Technological advances, structural adjustment in response to technology, economies of size, and the wringing out of cultural identity objectives have not occurred at the cow-calf producer level as they occurred throughout much of U.S. agriculture in the 20th century. As a result, household-level cow-calf production has maintained more of its traditional economic, social, and cultural character than any other geographically dispersed agricultural commodity sector in the United States today.

3. The NAIS pushback

The trend of fewer numbers of ever-larger beef feeding and packing operations throughout the United States has led many cow-calf producers to be concerned about the structure of the overall beef industry, the negative effects of downstream concentration, and their belief that they are at the losing end of the structural change. Many believe that prices received by cow-calf producers are depressed as a result of non-competitive market behavior by feeders and packers. Domestic cow-calf producers feel threatened by the market impacts of imported feeder cattle from Mexico and imported fed cattle from Canada. Live cattle imports are viewed favorably by a majority of feeders and packers, who generally welcome the flow of the animals into the U.S. market. Many in the cow-calf sector vigorously promoted country of origin labeling (COOL) for U.S. beef. COOL was opposed by feeders and packers as a result of their integration with the rest of the North American as well as the global cattle-beef markets. The schism between the cow-calf sector and the feeding and packing sectors led to the creation of a new industry lobbying group, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA). R-CALF consistently appeals to cow-calf industry fears about trade liberalization and global market integration, property rights erosion, loss of freedoms, and invasions of privacy. R-CALF was opposed to the NAIS. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) represents cow-calf producers, as well as feeders and packers. In the view of R-CALF, the NCBA and the United States Department of Agriculture do not represent the interests of “independent cattlemen.” The NCBA publishes Beef Magazine, was very supportive of the NAIS, and was a key player in the effort to establish a centralized, NCBA-affiliated, privately held database for animal tracking information. In 2005 Beef Magazine reported that 76% of survey respondents said a national system of individual animal ID and traceback was needed for health monitoring purposes, and 63% indicated such a system should be mandatory. According to the magazine, 83% of cattle producers who responded to their survey individually identify their cattle and 12% use electronic ID tags. These results are very different from USDA NAHMS 2007-08 survey results, which found that 53% of U.S. cow-calf producers use no form of individual calf identification and less than 1% of producers use electronic ID technology (USDA-APHIS, 2009a). In 2006, the Cattle Industry Work Group (established by the USDA to develop NAIS guidelines and standards for the cattle industry) declared electronic ID technology (specifically, radio frequency identification (RFID)) as the technology to be used to individually identify cattle under NAIS (USDA-APHIS, 2006c). Although originally conceived as a means to deal with animal health emergencies (zoonotic and otherwise), NAIS proponents and technology vendors consistently emphasized the valuable management benefits to producers from individual animal identification and performance record keeping (particularly in their RFID and electronic forms). NAIS proponents and technology vendors have assumed that management intensification and the tools to accomplish it are desired by producers. However, cow-calf production is an intrinsically low-management intensity activity. It is a land-extensive activity and one where it is often not desirable, necessary, or feasible for producers to increase management intensity or capital investments. NAIS proponents touted individual animal identification’s role in maintaining international market access and cattle and meat trade flows. This justification has not been well received by cow-calf producers who believe international trade is a threat to their industry. In their opinion, shutting off beef exports would be a small price to pay for shutting off the live cattle imports with which they directly compete. For the cow-calf sector, NAIS became an attempt to impose a technology mandate and modernization on an industry where cow reproductive limitations, producer household and personal objectives, and cattle’s efficient use of low-value forage have limited and will continue to limit technology adoption and modernization. Much of cow-calf producer opposition to NAIS was founded on fears that they would pay for the NAIS while the feeding and packing sectors would benefit from animal tracking and performance information derived from the electronic data. Cow-calf producers’ fears about the costs of NAIS were confirmed in a 2009 USDA benefit-cost analysis of the system (USDA-APHIS, 2009b, 2009c). The analysis concluded that beef cow-calf operations would incur 79% of the total annual beef cattle industry cost of a fully implemented NAIS. Given existing economies of size, the cost of an individual cow-calf animal ID system with full traceability ranged from a low of $2.48 per head for the largest operations to a high of $7.17 per head for the smallest operations. These data supported NAIS opponents’ long-running contention that NAIS would benefit large agribusiness at the expense of the smallest farming and ranching operations in the country.

4. Conclusion

A few years ago, the author of this paper was forcefully told by a USDA official that anyone who wanted to “produce or market cattle in the United States” would have to comply with NAIS. This official clearly did not recognize what a critical wedge issue NAIS would become within the U.S. beef-cattle industry. He and the broad complex of government animal health personnel, large agribusiness interests (particularly feeders and packers), and established industry associations failed to appreciate the deep distrust many cattle producers have of them. The proponents of NAIS also seem to have been unaware or dismissive of the deeply ingrained socio-cultural aspects of cow–calf production and traditional small-scale lifestyle agriculture in the United States. Although this paper focuses on the cow-calf sector, many traditional small-scale producers of other species objected to the NAIS using arguments similar to those of cow-calf producers. Serious miscalculations by government officials about livestock producers and owners fed and strengthened grassroots-level resistance to increased animal health regulations. NAIS proponents in government and the private sector sent too many conflicting messages to NAIS skeptics. Official NAIS reports and documents that appeared on and disappeared from the USDA’s website following criticism added to confusion, suspicion, and hostility regarding NAIS. As a consequence, new disease management risks have been created and the ability of the nation to effectively deal with real animal health emergencies has been compromised. The level of suspicion created by NAIS among traditional livestock producers led to an environment where, should a disease such as FMD arise in the United States, many producers will not respond as they should in a true emergency. Rather, they will suspect that a false emergency is being used to expand government control of their activities. Efforts to implement livestock movement control, quarantine, condemnation, and depopulation will be hampered and defied by some producers. Under these circumstances, disease outbreaks could be catastrophic for the entire nation. The USDA appears to have recognized the suspicions and potential for civil disobedience within the livestock sector which resulted from the NAIS experience, as evidenced by official statement that the new animal disease traceability framework has trust issues to overcome (USDA-APHIS, 2010). However, memories of NAIS will negatively affect whatever form a federally-promoted traceability framework takes in the future. Cow-calf producers’ distrust of federal regulation and their suspicions about relationships between large agribusiness NAIS supporters and the federal government are unlikely to moderate under any new federal traceability program. NAIS became part of the paranoia smaller (and many larger) producers feel about industry structure and market power relationships within the U.S. beef-cattle sector. The USDA’s recent statements that the new traceability framework will apply only to animals moving interstate will not mollify many cow-calf producers, as the vast majority of beef calves produced in the United States cross state lines at some point in their lives (even if they are first sold “locally”). Specifically, the February 2010 statement from USDA-APHIS that small producers who sell animals “to local markets” will not be a part of the new disease traceability framework has yet to be operationally defined. Unfortunately, much federal and state credibility has been lost in the rush to mandate a culturally insensitive, high technology, management-beneficial, and trade-oriented animal identification program. NAIS represented an enormous leap in government involvement in the beef cow-calf sector. From the beginning of NAIS, government was under the impression that it was dealing with an “industry”; however, much of U.S. livestock production is deeply grounded in culture and lifestyle. Expanded regulation of culture and lifestyle choices was an uphill battle for NAIS, and will continue to be so in the future. USDA’s unsuccessful efforts to promote NAIS as a management tool and as a means for supporting trade carried little weight with the large percentage of non-management intensive, non-trade oriented cow-calf producers. These producers’ concerns about competition from U.S. imports of feeder and fed cattle aren’t going away simply because federal animal disease traceability efforts are being renamed. Successful animal disease management in the future will require significant rebuilding of trust between state and federal animal health officials and grassroots-level producers. This will require that animal health officials credibly demonstrate their independence from large-scale agribusiness and from identification technology vendors. Previous disease management and eradication programs (e.g., scrapie, brucellosis) haven’t required producer investments in electronic eartags and other equipment. Furthermore, a comprehensive, nationwide, 48-hour traceback objective probably is infeasible under any existing and future technology and management assumptions, regardless of what technology vendors say. The USDA-APHIS announcement that future federal animal disease traceability efforts will apply to animals moving interstate means that any new program is likely to have much in common with NAIS. A future federally-influenced traceability program will thus encounter resistance and disease management will be compromised because of the NAIS experience. The loss of federal credibility and increased mistrust of government which resulted from NAIS has made the United States beef industry vulnerable to trade barriers and protectionism. The U.S. beef industry needs international trade, and post-NAIS, also needs programs that assure the quality and safety of U.S. beef products to overseas buyers. The demise of NAIS and potential cow-calf producer resistance to future government-mandated traceability systems have created a vacuum that industry-driven quality assurance or process verification programs can fill. In the wake of NAIS, an industry-driven system that covers willing buyers and sellers and financially rewards specific attributes or processes will be more successful than government regulation at holding and growing international markets for U.S.-produced beef. Even though NAIS was not implemented, animal disease hazards haven’t disappeared. In their recent factsheet, the USDA indicated that post-NAIS animal disease management and traceability efforts will be led by the states and tribal nations (USDA-APHIS, 2010). NAIS-related damage control needs to be high on the agenda for state and tribal agencies responsible for animal disease management. Whatever reservoirs of trust grassroots livestock producers have for state- or tribal-level animal health agencies desperately need to be refilled before new or well-known pathogens emerge to threaten livestock or human health throughout the United States.

5. Acknowledgement

This research was supported by the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA.

6. References

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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?

USDA and Corporate Agribusiness Continue to Push Animal ID Scheme

Consumers and Independent Producers Lose if Big Ag Wins on Animal Traceability

Source: The Cornucopia Institute, Mark Kastel – June 21, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to issue its new proposed rule for mandatory animal traceability very shortly. While USDA already has traceability requirements as part of existing animal disease control programs, the proposed framework goes much further to require animal tagging and tracing even absent any active disease threat. The framework has raised significant concerns among family farm and ranch advocates, who criticize the agency for failing to provide a coherent, factual explanation for the new program’s necessity.

“USDA brags about the success of past programs, but has abandoned the principles that made them successful,” argued Bill Bullard of R-CALF USA. “Past programs were based on sound science and were developed in response to the transmission, treatment, and elimination of specific identified diseases. USDA’s new approach is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not specifically aim at the control of livestock diseases.”

The USDA has presented its traceability scheme as an animal health program, but it has also reiterated the importance of the export market to the United States in promoting its new plan. The powerful meatpacking lobby has continued to push for such mandated traceability requirements in order to develop international standards for exports. Critics have suggested this is not in the American public’s best interest, however, since the U.S. is a net importer of beef and cattle and the profits from the export market go to a small handful of massive meatpacking companies.

“Factory farms can easily absorb the added economic burdens, and the meatpacking industry stands to benefit from a marketing standpoint,” asserted Judith McGeary, a livestock farmer and executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. “However, the extra expenses and labor will fall disproportionately on family farmers and ranchers, accelerating the loss of independent businesses to corporate industrial-scale producers.”

“Consumers need the USDA to start focusing on the animal health and food safety risks posed by industrialized meat production,” said Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch. “If USDA devoted as much energy to preventing animal diseases as it has to promoting animal tracking, our food system would be in much better shape.”

Many cattle organizations agree that tracing breeding-age cattle may be appropriate for efficient disease control, but USDA’s proposal goes far beyond that by calling for the identification of every cow that crosses state lines, including feeder cattle that are processed at a young age. Because of the sheer numbers of feeder cattle, this requirement could unduly burden small ranchers and sales barns and further erode competition in the marketplace.

“The large volume of the animals that USDA proposes to track could overwhelm the capabilities of state agencies, making it impossible to retrieve useful data if there is in fact a disease outbreak,” stated Gilles Stockton, a Montana rancher and member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Additionally, the centuries-old tradition of hot-iron branding cattle would be demoted from an official identification device. “The brand is a part of our ranching heritage and a long accepted method of animal identification,” stated Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont, in a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

A coalition of farm, ranch and consumer groups urges citizens to contact their Congressional representatives and the USDA with their concern that mandatory animal traceability helps only a few giant corporations, at the expense of American family farmers and consumers.

“If Americans don’t want their food supply to cave like the banking and housing industries, it’s time to take action,” stated Mark Kastel of The Cornucopia Institute.- 30-

MORE

Additional contact information:

Judith McGeary, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, 512-484-8821

Bill Bullard, R-CALF USA, 406-252-2516

Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch, 202-683-2465

Gilles Stockton, Western Organization of Resource Councils, 406-366-4463

The Cornucopia Institute PO Box 126 Cornucopia, WI 54827 www.cornucopia.org

ID Scheme

Editor Comment:  Rumblings from US cattle producers over USDA removing branding, their time tested tool to prevent cattle rustling, has reached the businss ears at WALL STREET JOURNAL.  This article articulates the problem, yet straddles the fence of detail and fact.  First, the “inexpensive ear tag” mentioned costs from $7 to $26 per critter and in Australian tests over 32% are lost or destroyed within two years.  As the USDA promotes expensive electronic ear tag devices, no removable ear tag in history has held up in a court of law for livestock title — yet hot iron brands are permanent and conclusive.  Take a lesson from history, not a temporary attachment. USDA plastic-removable animal ID is “flawed thought” and WSJ knows it!

Video

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The Bledsoe family and other ranchers across the West are resisting new government rules stating that branding will no longer be recognized as an official form of identification for interstate commerce. WSJ’s Stephanie Simon reports from Hugo, Colo.

HUGO, Colo.—In the chill of a damp spring morning, rancher Wil Bledsoe pressed two red-hot branding irons to the flank of a bellowing young calf. The smell of burning hair filled the barn.

When Mr. Bledsoe lifted the irons, the calf jumped up, wobbled a moment, then scampered back to his herd, a frying-pan logo seared into his shaggy hide.

Branding day has unfolded this way for generations on ranches all across the West. But ranchers from Colorado to Oregon, from Montana to Texas, worry that the tradition is under threat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced plans to rewrite its regulations so that hot-iron brands will no longer be recognized as an official form of identification for cattle sold or shipped across state lines.

Instead, the USDA wants every cow to have a unique numerical ID, stamped on an inexpensive ear tag, to make it easier to track animals from ranch to feedlot to slaughterhouse.

Branding Day at the Bledsoe Ranch

[SB10001424052702304066504576341754012316080]J.D. Schier watches cows walk into a different pen during a morning of branding on the Bledsoe ranch outside Hugo, Colo.

The proposed regulation won’t bar ranchers from branding their livestock. Individual states will be free to recognize brands as official ID if they so choose. And some ranchers who have tried the numerical IDs say they are no hassle and can actually be an asset, as they allow more detailed record-keeping on each individual cow or steer.

“It’s worked real well for us,” said Alex Johns, a resource director for the Seminole tribe of Florida, which has used bar-code ID tags for several years under a USDA pilot program. Mr. Johns said the tags helped the tribe sell their cattle at a premium price, as buyers had confidence the animals were tracked closely from birth and any health concerns noted and addressed. Keeping genetic records on heifers’ ID tags, he added, helped manage breeding programs to ensure birthing season brought healthy calves.

Nonetheless, ranchers across the West are up in arms.

The new rules, which the USDA will publish in draft form within weeks and which are scheduled to take effect in about a year, threaten “the United States cattle industry’s iconic, centuries-old, hot-iron brand,” a national coalition of cattle ranchers, known as R-Calf, wrote in a letter to the USDA. Rep. Dennis Rehberg, a Montana Republican and fifth-generation rancher, filed a similar protest.

Ranchers say they fear the withdrawal of federal support for branding might embolden animal-rights activists who call the practice barbaric. Some ranchers fear the new rules could even erode the legal standing of the brand as proof of ownership in cases of lost or stolen cattle.

The USDA says it never set out to undermine the traditional brand. Officials say the ID system will let them respond quickly if a diseased animal shows up in the meat production cycle, allowing them to track down other animals that a sick steer came into contact with.

Such track-backs have proved difficult for the USDA in the past. In 2003, 2005 and 2006, animals infected with mad-cow disease surfaced in the U.S. In each case, investigators had limited success identifying or locating livestock that might have been exposed to the sick cattle.

But branding advocates say none of the three animals was marked after birth with a registered brand from a U.S. ranch. One had been imported from Canada, one had no identification at all, and the third was traced to a Texas ranch that “kept very few herd records,” a USDA report on the case said.

Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-Calf, said tracing the animals would have been far easier had they been marked with an indelible brand, which, unlike an ear tag, cannot fall off or be cut out. Insisting that every one of the nation’s 93 million cattle has its own ID is “unnecessary, overly burdensome regulatory overreach,” he said.

Branding, brought to the New World in the 1500s by Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez, is today common across states like New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming. The marks can be seen from a distance and help ranchers settle ownership disputes when cattle trample fences and mix with a neighbor’s herd. Many states keep a registry of brands, so there won’t be two ranchers using the same Lazy J or Triple Dot. State brand inspectors say the practice also deters rustling, as thieves can’t remove the identifying mark.

And on many ranches, branding day is a communal affair. “The cultural tradition can’t be overemphasized,” said Taylor Haynes, a fourth-generation rancher outside Cheyenne, Wyo.

On the Bledsoe ranch in Eastern Colorado, family members spent a morning castrating, vaccinating and branding calves in practiced motions that took just 60 to 90 seconds an animal.

“When government steps in, they like to make things more complex,” Mr. Bledsoe said. “Branding’s the simplest, most efficient way to do it. Why change?”

Write to Stephanie Simon at stephanie.simon@wsj.com

Note:Sec Vilsack knows that 16% of the US 2010 consumed beef was imported. He knows that for the last 21 years the USA has not produced enough beef to feed the nation. Why then, pray tell, does he think it is important to export beef to China, much of which has to be purchased outside the USA? Why would the marble halls of USDA contain people so far removed from the real world to assume it commercially feasable to force mandatory electronic ear tags on nearly a hundred million US cattle just to sell a few ocean containers of beef to China? Who comes up with this math? The cattle ID enforcement brain-child is not about exporting! It is not about livestock disease!

–Editor

Inside U.S. Trade

Daily News

Vilsack Indicates New Traceability Rule Will Help Exports, But Exact Impact Unclear

Posted: May 23, 2011

A soon-to-be-released proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) imposing a mandatory animal traceability system will help win more market access for U.S. meat producers by enhancing the ability of the U.S. government to respond to an animal disease outbreak, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at a May 12 House Agriculture Committee hearing.

“One of the concerns that we often hear from our trading partners is [about] the capacity to basically trace back at least to the state of origin any problem with animal health, which is why this traceability system is important,” Vilsack said.

Only about 30 percent of cattle producers participate in the current, voluntary traceability system, Vilsack said, and the current system does not “provide us the certainty and the guarantee” that the new system will. “So we think we’re going to get much more acceptance from this effort, and that should reassure our trading partners,” he said.

One meat packing industry source agreed that a comprehensive traceability system is important to expanding exports of beef to the European Union, which has so many information requirements for imports that traceability while not expressly required is necessary nevertheless. A mandatory system could enable more companies to ship there, he said.

Japan, which currently restricts access to its market to U.S. beef exports from cattle younger than 20 months, may be more willing to further open its beef market in light of a new, mandatory traceability system, this source said, because the United States could argue it is better equipped to deal with any animal health problem.

While the new system is intended to be comprehensive and mandatory, it is unclear whether it would meet the demands of all U.S. trade partners.

For instance, China has demanded that the United States implement a system that allows cattle to be traced back not only to their state of origin, but to the farm where they were born. China has said the United States must meet this condition before it will accept beef imports from the United States (Inside U.S. Trade,Nov. 12).

A spokeswoman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) would not comment on whether the new proposal would be able to meet that requirement. She also would not give a more firm timeline for the proposal’s release than the one offered by Vilsack, who said it would be published by “late spring or early summer.”

But there are signs that the program would not go as far on traceability as China has demanded.

While mandatory, the new program will only apply to animals moving interstate, as these animals pose the biggest risk for spreading disease nationwide, according to a March USDA report giving the initial outlines of the proposal.

Before cattle are moved and sold across state lines, they will be affixed with a tag that bears a code indicating the state or American Indian tribe of origin and a unique numeric identifier. The state or tribe where the animal originated will then be responsible for maintaining detailed information of the animal’s origin.

This means that, in the case of a disease outbreak, it could be traced back tothe farm from which it came.

But Bill Bullard, CEO of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), said in an interview that while the system strengthens the government’s current ability to conduct trace-backs, it will likely not enable the government to trace back all cattle to their place of birth.

For example, if a cow changed hands several times within a state before being moved across state lines, state records would reflect only the farm where the cow was held last. That said, authorities could rely upon brands or other records kept by ranchers to trace the animal back to its farm of origin in these instances, Bullard said.

In the case of a cow that was raised and slaughtered in the same state and never moved to another, it is possible that no records would be kept under the new system. So-called “slick cows,” those with no brands and no ear tag, could also cause potential identification problems if record-keeping was not detailed, Bullard acknowledged.

So could a cow whose ear tag had fallen off, he added one reason his organization is pushing USDA to maintain the hot-iron brand as a recognized form of official identification.

The focus of the program is cattle, although it will also include changes to the way horses and poultry are tracked; regulations on swine, along with sheep and goats, will not be affected, according to the USDA report.

According to a spokeswoman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the new rule will be announced on the APHIS homepage and posted on Regulations.gov for a 60-day comment period.

“Once the comment period has closed, no comments will be accepted,” the spokeswoman said. “Consideration and response [to] all submitted comments will appear in the final rule 12 to 15 months after the close of the comment period.”

Bullard said the forthcoming proposal addresses the primary criticisms of the failed National Animal Identification System program (NAIS): that a traceability system would violate ranchers’ confidentiality and leave them unfairly exposed to liability suits in cases of food poisoning. They had also worried about the cost of the program.

The new proposal solves these issues by storing information in databases at the state level or with tribes, rather than at the federal level, where it could potentially be subject to freedom of information requests, Bullard said.

Ranchers worried that kind of producer data could be used by meat packers to gain leverage in negotiating prices, or by people who became sick after eating bad meat and wanted to sue everyone in the supply chain, he explained.

Allowing the use of cheap, metal ear tags instead of the more costly electronic tags proposed under NAIS also largely solves the problem of cost, Bullard said.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said he was not familiar with the upcoming proposal but emphasized that his group has favored a voluntary approach in the past.

“Our policy has supported voluntary traceability programs,” Stallman told reporters at a May 17 press lunch, adding that some of the group’s members are involved in animal identification for more premium markets.

“There’s some involved in that,” he said. “So they’re not [all] opposed to the idea of traceability. What they’ve been opposed to is who has the information and how much is it going to cost, and how’s the information going to be used,” he said, echoing similar worries to those expressed by Bullard.

But Bullard called other parts of the forthcoming proposal a “broken promise” to his members because USDA had assured them that hot-iron brands would still be considered official identifiers under the new system, and that cattle under 18 months old would not be covered.

Bullard said the latest draft of the proposal recognizes only metal or electronic ear tags as official identifiers and would begin to cover cattle of all ages once 70 percent of cattle older than 18 months roughly the breeding age have been registered in the tracing system.

This version of the proposal has been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget and should be released soon, he added, but R-CALF is urging USDA not to publish it until those provisions are changed.

His group wants branding to be recognized as a universal identifier because ear tags can easily fall off, or be replaced by thieves. Under the proposal, brands could only be recognized through special state-to-state agreements. In the interview, Bullard also said that including younger “feeder” cattle in the system is unnecessarily burdensome.

“Our position is, there has been no demonstrated need to identify these younger animals,” Bullard said.

“We have been highly successful in eradicating diseases by focusing only on the breeding herd. And so we want to focus on the breeding herd, and when that is accomplished, we want to do a needs assessment to determine if the additional cost and burden upon the industry outweigh the benefits of the program.”

“We believe that these feeder cattle are already sufficiently traceable during their relatively short lifespans,” he added, “[and] that there is no need to mandate their identification at this time.”

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