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Opinion: R-CALF's Single-Issue Focus Shows

Many people around the country got pretty excited last week. It happened after R-CALF USA put out a press release implying that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had declared hay a pollutant and every rancher in the nation was faced with the prospect of building a containment area for their hay supply.

It’s probably near to impossible to overstate how ludicrous of a rule EPA might actually propose, so the alarm wasn’t altogether unjustified. The mainstream national organizations and state cattlemen’s groups, however, have been working with EPA and others for several years now making sure that the language that has been put in place protected producers. R-CALF USA obviously wasn’t part of that process and its leadership wasn’t aware that the measure didn’t pertain to hay per se, and certainly not to those entities that don’t qualify as a large CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation).

R-CALF typically doesn’t deal with the myriad of regulatory issues or the various agencies that a mainstream group like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association does; R-CALF historically has tended to focus strictly on issues relative to marketing. Still, it was surprising that an organization purporting to be a legitimate lobbying organization would go forward with such an obvious misunderstanding of the issue.

R-CALF not only misunderstood the circumstances of the violations they cited but also the issue at hand; the organization obviously was also unaware of the work that had already been done on behalf of the industry by the mainstream cattle organizations.

The situation is illustrative of how a unified voice is sorely needed in this industry. The recent fiasco over the national beef checkoff and the positive progress that has been made in that area in the past month makes it abundantly clear that the industry is better served by avoiding the hyperbole and demagoguery that unfortunately have become almost the norm rather than the exception.

With very few exceptions, most people involved in this industry have the best interests of the industry at heart. While they may disagree on the direction, it makes more sense to deal with these differences from an intellectually honest baseline. Such a process won’t result in unanimous opinions, of course, but it might finally put to rest the fiery rhetoric that hasn’t served the industry very well.

EPA has shown an incredible propensity to overreach its authority, and a willingness to place unreasonable and unjustified burdens upon our industry. Thankfully, however, the industry has been able to do a remarkable job of squelching the majority of these moves. And, we’ve been able to do this because we’ve come to the table with the facts and science and we’re regarded as legitimate players. Departures like R-CALF’s last week severely harm the legitimacy of the industry.