Apr 24, 2009

The end justifies the means” must be the mantra in R-CALF United Stock Growers of America’s board meetings these days. Last week, we caught wind of a new marketing program R-CALF is pursuing.

In an effort to expand their membership, they are focusing on rank-and-file consumers. R-CALF has worked hard to maintain a relationship with many national consumer groups to support their position on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). Some of these consumer groups were helpful in getting the final COOL regulations passed. They have now been in effect for about 45 days. I would have to think that in most people’s minds, the game is over on COOL. The COOL proponents won. However, the board members of R-CALF don’t seem to want the game to end. Apparently, they can still find plenty of things wrong with the beef industry, allowing them to pick new battles with USDA or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Among their biggest concerns with the beef industry: its entire structure. Now R-CALF is taking their message directly to the consumer. This can be dangerous territory.

R-CALF is asking consumers to join their band of beef industry fighters who have spread as much misinformation about the beef industry as a manure truck can hold. On their Web site, they are trying to explain why consumers should join their quest for the cattlemen’s way of life. They also provide a host of YouTube videos to support their causes. Actually, that might not be a bad idea. However, the only real reason I can see for R-CALF to invite consumers to join their association is that they need the money. All associations need funding, but this is a rather unorthodox proposition.

In their Web invitation, they thank consumers for visiting their “unprecedented website maintained by cattle producers for consumers.” And then go on to say, “Today, due to inappropriate government policies that have led to the unprecedented consolidation, concentration, and outsourcing of domestic cattle production, the few remaining cattle producers who are left in the U.S. are struggling to stay in business. At the same time, consumers are now paying beef prices that are disconnected from cattle prices, food-borne illnesses from contaminated beef have increased dramatically, and tainted beef products are being imported from foreign countries with inadequate health and safety standards.

“Our nation’s exemplary system of cattle production, which once provided consumers with the safest, most reliable, and most affordable beef supply produced under the best conditions, is now seriously broken.

“We are in this together and must now work together to aggressively reform government policies that are driving a wedge between cattle production and beef consumption. Together we must restore the deep-rooted system that once connected consumers to cattle producers—the system that assured consumers the safest and most reliable food source ...” I don’t have a problem with trade groups working with consumer groups. I would prefer to have them tell consumers about the virtues of our products rather than tell them how bad our food safety and marketing system is. This seems more like a scare tactic and a sympathy message rather than a message to endorse the positive aspects of U.S. beef. It’s becoming difficult to understand just who R- CALF is representing. Last week, R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard sent out an opinion piece insisting that FDA go forward with implementing their proposed feed ban, which every other segment of the cattle industry has opposed. R-CALF’s spin had everything to do with keeping Canadian cattle out of the U.S. Everyone else in the cattle industry was more concerned about how to properly dispose of deadstock.

Rendering companies have already been refusing to pick up deadstock, leaving every beef producer with the problem of what to do. It’s becoming clear that R-CALF is terribly lost in their ideology and would appear to be more concerned about their own economic situation than real issues that effect cattle producers. The fact that R-CALF is inviting rank-and-file consumers to join their organization makes no sense.

The beef and cattle business may have some dirty laundry, but I certainly wouldn’t expect to see any producer group deliver a message to consumers which trashes the processing, importing or marketing of beef products. I simply don’t see how this could have a positive effect on our industry. — PETE CROW