Overall, there is a trio of issues currently dividing the industry.
•Mandatory COOL – cooler heads said it would violate our World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, and that’s exactly what we got. After all the division, we’re now in a position where COOL will be front and center again in the upcoming farm bill. Experts will tell you any WTO-compliant program will be largely a farce, with virtually everything being labeled as U.S. beef; but the industry will still continue to fight over COOL.
•GIPSA. There seems to be a belief out there that once a rule is published, the issue will be settled, tweaking will take place, and all will be good. Unfortunately, we don’t know if the USDA Secretary will retreat and issue a rule that contains the five points agreed to by Congress in the last farm bill, in which case the issue won’t be an issue. Or possibly Tom Vilsack could choose to take the five points and some controversial items, which will create a prolonged battle in the courts and again put GIPSA front and center in the next farm bill. And then there’s the third – or the nuclear – option, which would include all of GIPSA Chief J. Dudley Butler’s points and lead to all-out war between opposing views within our industry. Or, the GIPSA rule might die from lack of sustenance. This week, The U.S. House of Representatives ag subcommittee passed a draft appropriations bill stipulating that it would strip funding for the effort. The bill must pass full House Appropriations Committee muster on May 31.
•The checkoff feud between the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the Federation of State Beef Councils (Federation) and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB). The great irony here is that no other entity has either the ability to do the authorization requests (AR) or the desire. NCBA and the Federation have put together the expertise and the infrastructure to handle the ARs and are the only ones who will play by the checkoff rules, which is to not make any money by carrying out these projects and carrying a lot of the overhead that makes the program possible. A lot of this debate is ultimately moot. Can you imagine the CBB sitting on $5 million provided by producers with nobody willing to take on the activities because of the hassle, bureaucratic red tape, and lack of profit incentive?
The reality is that none of these three issues will do anything to build beef demand and improve the profitability of our industry. I had someone point out to me that the beef industry is reminiscent of the sheep industry, which fought among themselves and everyone else until they literally lost their significance. Today, the sheep people recognize they have to build global demand for their product and are beginning to move in that direction, but look what it cost them.
Perhaps if we learn from the mandatory COOL failure, we can prevent it from happening again with GIPSA and the checkoff. If we don’t, we’ll continue to waste limited resources fighting recurring battles with no benefit to our industry.