U.S. Cattlemens Association completes Capitol Hill fly-in

Nov 30, 2009
by WLJ
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association completes Capitol Hill fly-in

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) representatives were in Washington, D.C., during the first week of November to share cattle producers’ concerns with policymakers on a number of cattle industry issues with a primary focus on the country of origin labeling (COOL) challenge under the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Led by USCA President Jon Wooster, San Lucas, CA, and USCA Director Emeritus Leo McDonnell, Columbus, MT, the group met with representatives of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee’s trade staff, the U.S.

Trade Representative’s office, and U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Trade Subcommittee staff members, among others.

“As the COOL challenge progresses through the WTO process, we want to make certain the cattle industry is positioned with trade representatives to ensure a vigorous defense of the law,” stated McDonnell. “These meetings were important in that they help officials better understand how our industry operates as well as sharing information that will be important throughout the WTO challenge. The message delivered was a strong one that outlines USCA’s expectations and willingness to serve as a resource in the case. USCA members have a great deal of expertise on international trade issues and as this case unfolds, we want to be sure that every measure is taken to protect and preserve our right to label our product domestically.”

USCA representatives also met with J. Dudley Butler, administrator of the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). “J.

Dudley Butler’s appointment to lead GIPSA ushers in a new era at the agency,” commented Wooster. “Market competition and monopolization are promised to be closely scrutinized under his administration with special attention on enforcement of antitrust laws and the upcoming joint GIPSA-DOJ [Department of Justice] workshops will add greatly to this. This was a very encouraging meeting. We’re very fortunate to have someone with his experience and expertise appointed to this position and USCA looks forward to a close working relationship with Administrator Butler.”

During a meeting with Dr. Matt Messenger of the National Center for Animal Health Programs, USCA representatives discussed ongoing issues with Texas fever tick eradication. Chuck Kiker, USCA Region V director, Beaumont, TX, said certain regions in Texas along the Mexico border still suffer from substantial fever tick issues and that the overview of the issue presented during the meeting was encouraging. “It’s quite possible that a new vaccine will emerge in the U.S. to help eradicate fever ticks. The vaccine is already in use in Mexico and the results are successful. U.S. animal health officials are working closely with the Food and Drug Administration to win approval to use this new vaccine in the U.S.,” noted Kiker.

Defending the COOL WTO case, increasing U.S. beef access to foreign markets, along with clarifications on the follow up and implementation of federal programs regarding Hurricane Ike and drought across the Southwest, were topics of discussion during the meeting with USDA Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services (FAS) officials and Under Secretary Jim Miller. “USDA FAS has its plate full handling several critical issues for U.S. cattle producers,” noted Kiker. “We are pleased and impressed with their continuing commitment to make progress on all of these issues. Hurricane Ike and the drought caused massive problems in Texas. The implementation of relief programs will ensure that livestock producers across the nation will be able to continue their operations and overcome the devastating effects of disasters,” remarked Kiker.

USCA officials also met with USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service staff regarding the national mandatory beef checkoff. “This meeting was very informative,” said Wooster. “There is no doubt that Sen. Jon Tester’s bill to modernize the beef checkoff will be instrumental in reforming the Beef Act. This measure will enhance the decades old Beef Act. It is imperative that producers engage in the process by asking their U.S. senators to sign on as cosponsors of Sen. Tester’s legislation.”

Wooster explained that the group also participated in discussions with administrators of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), a hot-button issue for cattle producers.

“The secretary of Agriculture has indicated that he will be announcing his plans for a redirection of animal identification and we await that announcement. It is clear that the animal identification issue is not dead,” warned Wooster. “Despite the fact that NAIS funding was drastically slashed in the most recent congressional spending bill, a considerable cash reserve remains at USDA that can be used to develop an animal identification system for disease mitigation programs and to initiate some type of trace back for disease outbreaks. This cash reserve, estimated in the millions, is the result of groups failing to meet prescribed benchmarks in their grants to promote premise registrations. As a result of those failures, grant funds were withheld and remain at the disposal of USDA. There is also a concern that a mandatory identification proposal may come up based on the identification systems used in the tuberculosis and brucellosis programs for interstate shipment of cattle.”

Wooster continued, “Animal health officials are having an increasingly difficult time tracing animal disease outbreaks due to the phasing-out of historically successful animal health programs like the programs for tuberculosis and brucellosis, and due to reducing the number of cattle being identified with an official ear tag.

These are serious issues that will require the engagement of cattle producers across the country.”

USCA members received an update from USDA’s Dr. Freeda Isaac and Dr. Alecia Naugle concerning Canadian cattle imported into the  U.S. for a feedlot destination in Washington state. The cattle entered the U.S. earlier this year but were turned out onto a forest grazing permit, a violation of import requirements. “We learned that of the 385 head involved, all but four have been gathered and tested and that the four remaining head are believed to be dead,” explained Wooster. “All of the cattle gathered tested negative for tuberculosis. We appreciate USDA’s aggressive actions with this matter. Officials indicated that enforcement actions and remedies are ongoing and they are taking these violations very seriously.”

Meetings were also held on several current and forthcoming international trade issues. There was emphasis that cattle and beef need to be included under the special rules required for perishable and cyclical agricultural products as has been done in some of the trade agreements passed under the last Congress. “I want to thank the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association members and supporters who participated in this flyin,” said Wooster. In addition to Wooster, McDonnell and Kiker, Brian Malaer, Harwood, TX, Hollis “Peanut” Gilfillian, Stowell, TX, and Jess Peterson, Washington, D.C., also attended. “I also want to thank the Obama administration officials, agency staff, and the congressional staff who took the time to meet with the USCA delegation,” noted Wooster. “These meetings were extremely productive and we greatly appreciate the time and information provided in the meetings.”

“In a short period of time, USCA has established itself as a respected voice for cattle producers on Capitol Hill,” continued Wooster. “This is the fourth fly-in in which USCA has led a delegation of U.S. cattle producers to Washington, D.C. We have achieved a level of access that is unprecedented. Our approach is one of having a full-time representative for the industry in Washington, D.C., supported by regular visits from producers themselves. I encourage every rancher to get involved with USCA and become part of shaping the future of our industry.” — WLJ