Of course it’s politics
I’m a long-time reader of WLJ, and I’ve become increasingly disappointed in its position on BSE and the Canadian border. Pete’s Jan. 10 column dismisses R- CALF’s safety concerns with the assertion that such concerns merely mask what for R-CALF is really “a market issue”; that it really is a “simple philosophy of protectionism.” Pete further argues that with “92 percent of the world’s population outside the U.S., …the marketing opportunities would be rich….”
To Pete’s credit, his Jan. 17 column, coming on the heels of the most recent BSE case, had a softened tone. There are two issues: the science underlying BSE and the issue of “protectionism.” They should not be lumped together as Pete initially attempted.
First, an observation regarding Pete’s population argument. While correct on his number, he ignores the fact that America controls over 40 percent of the world’s wealth. Why else would Canada, Australia, Brazil, China and the rest of the world want access to our small eight percent of the world’s population? Products are not purchased by raw demographics but by wealth.
As to “protectionism,” what’s wrong with it? America became a global power by practicing “protectionism.” From Jefferson to Teddy Roosevelt, this nation’s leaders were mostly “protectionists.” Lincoln declared, “give us a protective tariff, and we will have the greatest country on earth.” Teddy Roosevelt had no use for academic “free trade” theoreticians “who have confined themselves to study in the closet; for the actual workings of the tariff has emphatically contradicted their theories.”
What have been the fruits of the “free trade” theoreticians? They have destroyed America’s arsenal of manufacturing which Churchill credited with having been the deciding factor in the second World War. They have taken agriculture from a trade surplus to a trade deficit. They have transformed America from the world’s greatest creditor to the world’s greatest debtor.
Global trade is about low cost production. American agriculture is not the low-cost producer. We live in a litigious society and have the overall highest tax/regulatory burden on the planet. If government chooses to ignore the crisis of litigation while at the same time burdening its producers with workman’s compensation, an overall tax burden approaching 50 percent, and a host of environmental strictures, it cannot then bid us compete with producers not saddled with like burdens. Taking C.S. Lewis out of context, “we castrate and bid the gelding be fruitful.”
We worship at the altar of “free trade” yet refuse to debate trade issues, derisively dismissing critics as “protectionists.” Free trade cannot be abstractly discussed solely on the basis of Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. Exchange rates, labor and environmental standards all must enter into the discussion.
As to science, the OIE requires that a meat and bone meal feed ban must be effectively enforced for eight years in order for a country to be designated a “minimal risk.” USDA petitioned OIE for a relaxation of the eight-year period but its request was denied with the observation that “one of the most important conclusions of the recent OIE expert group is that the scientific basis used in the present Code is still valid.” USDA ignored the OIE, concluding instead that a seven-year ban exceeds the BSE incubation period.”
Further, it is unclear whether Canada has effectively enforced its ban even for seven years. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s 2004 study found that 71 percent of Canadian manufactured feed labeled “vegetable only” in fact had undeclared animal protein. Canadian investigations have also revealed that potentially 2,000 head of cattle may have been exposed to BSE-contaminated feed as a consequence of rendering the May 2003 BSE cow.
Surely, Pete you would concede that the foregoing are legitimate science questions and not merely a facade masking market issues. While his Jan. 17 column acknowledges that R-CALF has some “compelling points,” Pete also concludes that some points “may be a bit of a stretch.” He particularly points to the issue of TSE prions and hamster research, arguing that if the research “was so compelling why hasn’t it been utilized more, since this thing is supposed to be ‘science based.’”
Bottom line—BSE epidemiology is not well understood at this point. Dr. Stanley Prusiner, Nobel Prize winner in medicine for his discovery of prions, was asked his opinion of our efforts to control BSE. His response, in a word, “terrible.”
Therein lies the nub—the border issue is “supposed to be science based.” USDA’s actions are not science based but are political decisions. Wetland regulation, the Endangered Species Act, global warming and Kyoto, the refusal to drill ANWR and upgrade this nation’s refinery capability, are not decisions based on science. They are all political decisions as is USDA’s rule attempting to reopen the Canadian border.
Since the decision isn’t going to be made on science, what we really need is a good debate on “protectionism” and its role in the future of America’s production of beef.
St. Johns, AZ
Safe North American beef
I would first like to commend you on your coverage of BSE, I find it to be very informative, and it is a refreshing change to read a newspaper that gives an impartial view on the issues between Canada and the U.S. and that shows more than just R-CALF's point of view.
I was very interested to read the letter to the Editor titled "Shoot, Shovel, and Shut-up" from Corey Gall in Tripp, SD, and the comments that his/her uncle had passed on concerning Premier Klein telling ranchers and farmers they should "shoot, shovel and shut-up " about any possible sick animals. I'm not sure where this uncle gets his news from, but it is over a one-and-a-half years out of date. Ralph Klein made that remark in September of 2003 at a weekend meeting in Montana for Premiers of the Western Provinces and U.S. Governors. Mr. Klein said later that he didn't mean for his remark to be taken as advice literally, but simply that if the owner of the first BSE confirmed cow had done just that, (as many cattle producers do when they have a sick animal that they know will not get better) the border wouldn't have closed to exports. In lieu of the following three cases, it would have happened anyway, but Mr. Klein is not known throughout Canada for his subtleties, and his frustration with the whole situation got the better of him that day, but even Mr Klein realizes that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with and not acknowledging it would be suicide for the beef industry in Canada.
I do believe that Canada needs to be in 100 percent compliance with their feed ban in order for the rest of the world to believe them when they say they are within guidelines and that their beef is safe. I do, however, question how the U.S. can point their fingers and yell and scream when it was reported in your paper that of the 110 samples taken and found to be contaminated, over half were imported and that some of these were from the U.S.? Canada is also relying on other countries feed that they import to be safe and within the guidelines in order for decisions based on science to be applied concerning BSE.
I know I will have no problem eating beef in Alberta when I go home to visit my family this summer, and I don't know any other Canadian that will.