GUEST opinion

May 8, 2009
by WLJ

GUEST opinion
Reply to Pete Crow’s column of Apr. 27, 2009, that criticizes R-CALF USA

R-CALF USA understands that Pete Crow is critical of R-CALF USA’s seemingly unconventional strategy for achieving the organizational policies established by its thousands of cattle-producing members. Mr. Crow’s April 27 comments suggest that R-CALF USA is perhaps entering dangerous territory by taking its message directly to consumers.

We, of course, respectfully disagree. Our U.S. cattle industry is constantly changing. Everyone knows that. But, not everyone is involved in initiating or directing these changes.

For decades, cattle industry changes have been initiated and directed by mega-agribusinesses, which pursued liberal trade policies to facilitate trade with countries that harbor a higher risk for disease in order to gain access to more, and lower-cost, supplies. These mega-agribusinesses initiated a rapid consolidation and concentration of our meatpacking industry to put market power in the hands of only a few. They introduced new cattle procurement contracts to strengthen their control over the live cattle supply chain. And, they redefined the relationship between live cattle producers and consumers—choosing to inform consumers only of the virtues of the newly consolidated and concentrated industry structure, but not its hazards.

Meanwhile, the U.S. live cattle industry shrank rapidly. Since 1996, more than 9 million cattle were liquidated from the U.S. herd, cattle producers exited the industry at a rate of nearly 12,000 producers per year, and smaller farmerfeeders exited the industry at a rate of more than 2,000 per year. Mega-agribusinesses call this progress. And so, too, do industry supporters such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). But R-CALF USA was formed during this time frame to redirect and reshape the industry – much to the chagrin of conventional industry leaders who support the industry’s present course.

R-CALF USA realized from the outset there were not enough cattle producers remaining in their shrinking population to reshape and redirect the U.S. cattle industry in time to prevent the mega-agribusinesses from capturing near-complete control of the domestic cattle industry, just as they already have accomplished in the U.S. poultry and hog industries.

R-CALF USA immediately set out to re-establish a relationship with the cattle producers’ indirect customer—beef consumers who share the producers’ goals of ensuring that cattle production remained in the hands of family farmers and ranchers who care deeply for the health and welfare of their cattle and who are the nation’s best stewards of our air, land and water.

As a result, the cattle industry continues to change, but now the change is being significantly influenced by R-CALF USA members and their consumer allies. Pete Crow mentioned one notable example of this new change: the successful implementation of country-of-origin labeling (COOL) after a long 7-year fight. And another: R-CALF USA’s defeat of the recent attempt of agribusinesses to delay implementation of the enhanced feed ban while the U.S. continues to assume an increased risk of exposure to mad cow disease that’s known to have circulated in Canada’s feed system after the date (March 1, 1999) that Canadian cattle are eligible for export to the United States.

However, there are many more examples: R-CALF USA and consumer groups together are aiding the United States’ defense of our new COOL law against foreign complaints filed by Canada and Mexico at the World Trade Organization (WTO). R-CALF USA enlisted the help of consumers to successfully encourage the U.S. Department of Justice and 17 state attorneys general to block the proposed mega-merger between Brazilian-owned JBS and U.S.-owned National Beef Packing Co. on the grounds the merger would result in the exploitation of both producers and consumers. Additionally, R-CALF USA and consumers are, together, involved in a pending lawsuit to reverse the United States’ decision to allow higher-risk Canadian cattle into the United States.

Very recently, R-CALF USA also has joined with U.S. manufacturers who, like R-CALF USA, seek fundamental reforms in U.S. trade policy to reverse the ongoing outsourcing of domestic livestock and manufacturing industries.

We have entered a new era of change, and R-CALF USA will continue to pursue its successful model of informing U.S. consumers and manufacturers about how the fight led by U.S. cattle producers to reshape and redirect the U.S. cattle industry is their fight as well. Bill Bullard R-CALF USA CEO