GUEST opinion

Opinion
Jun 24, 2011
by WLJ

Producers, consumers and cattle lose under GIPSA rule

While the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s (GIPSA) proposed livestock and poultry marketing rule is intended to provide a fair market, should it be implemented, it will be anything but “fair” to progressive producers, consumers and the cattle themselves. The rule stands to threaten market incentives, the quality of American beef the industry is known for, and the quality of life our animals are provided.

As a rancher and veterinarian, I strive to better my herd and the herds of my clients through the use of progressive management. The increased value of quality cattle at the time of sale is a true market-driven reward for providing quality.

The proposed GIPSA rule threatens the future of the alternative marketing arrangements that reward producers for producing the quality beef consumers demand. The United States of America still serves as the number one supplier of beef in the world, while our domestic inventory is at levels not seen since the 1950s and our national herd is sixth in the world. This is due to the use of advanced genetics and progressive management. Without market incentives to continue to improve the quality of beef cattle, why would producers want to stay in the business of providing food for the world, while providing for their own families?

Who has benefitted most from American beef producers’ race to improve? The answer is the American consumer. With an abundant supply of safe, wholesome and nutritious beef, Americans are reaping the rewards of the beef industry’s progressiveness. Should the proposed rule be implemented, the quality of available beef may decrease and consumers may pay more of their hard-earned cash for what will likely be a lower quality product. Why would a producer strive to produce prime and choice cattle when select cattle pay the same? The proposed GIPSA rule will result in a trial lawyer bonanza. Under the proposed rule, USDA or a producer no longer needs to prove true economic harm but rather one only needs to say that he or she was treated “unfairly” to sue a packer or processor. The only problem is—there is no definition of what “fair” means. If I am rewarded with a premium for my high quality cattle, my neighbor who raises select grade, commodity cattle could sue because he feels he was treated unfairly. What incentive would a packer have to pay for superior cattle when they may be sued for rewarding quality? It is ridiculous to think that this new regulation will result in higher quality cattle and beef.

Now, I understand that many feel a ban on packerto-packer sales would somehow benefit the market. I question, however, if these people have thought about what such a ban would do to the cattle themselves. Many packer-to-packer sales are done out of necessity. With integration in the feeding and packing sectors of our industry, it is not uncommon to have feedlots owned by one company hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from one of their own slaughter facilities. Is it fair to the welfare of our cattle to make them stand on trucks for hours and travel hundreds, if not a thousand, miles or more to be processed at a company-owned facility?

As an industry, we have made great advances in caring for the cattle we are entrusted with. The beef industry takes great pride in providing cattle a quality life and a dignified ending to life at the time of processing. Why should we be forced to subject these animals to unneeded and unwarranted movement and stress? It is in the best interest of the cattle we care for to allow processing at a nearby facility. If that means a sale of animals from one packer to another must occur in order to achieve this, then it should be allowed.

Why should we, as producers, as consumers, and as animal welfare proponents, allow unprecedented government intervention into an industry that has proven to be progressive on market incentives, quality beef production, and animal welfare? This proposed GIP- SA rule threatens the basic principles our industry stands upon today.

As a producer and veterinarian, sworn to “use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge,” it disgusts me to think that all the hard work and the years of improvement that have gone into bettering our industry can be negated by a rule proposed by the federal government. — J.J. Goicoechea, Nevada cattleman and veterinarian

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