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A Tale of Two World Views

It really comes down to a simple philosophical difference—either you believe the market works or you don’t.

It really comes down to a simple philosophical difference—either you believe the market works or you don’t.

While the issues discussed at opposing pre-meetings last night leading up to today’s USDA/Department of Justice Livestock Workshop in Fort Collins, CO, went much deeper than that, boiling things down to that perspective is perhaps the simplest way to sum up the opposing world views currently at play in the beef business.

On one hand, there were those who believe the market works; the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association/National Pork Producers Council gathering. While not lacking in passion, the speakers offered reasoned arguments and scientific studies to back up their contention that the market is doing a fine job of encouraging the beef industry to produce beef that meets consumer demand, a private business deal is just that—private—and if anything is wrong with the market, those who participate in the market will fix it.

On the other hand, there was the R-CALF gathering just a few miles away, which, had it not been in a hotel ballroom, could have been mistaken for a tent revival. It wasn’t short on passion and emotion—in fact, passion and emotion were offered in heapin’ helpins,’ along with the idea that there’s plenty wrong with the market and the only way to fix it is for the government to step in and run things.

As Troy Marshall points out in his thoughts on the USDA/DOJ meeting, it’s very likely that nothing much will come of it. You could say the same about the pre-gatherings that NCBA and R-CALF held Thursday night. Each camp has pitched its tents and dug its fortifications. And, while the proposed GIPSA competition rule is the issue that everybody talked about, it’s only a part of the agenda for the USDA/DOJ event.

It’s impossible at this juncture to predict the future for the proposed GIPSA rule. There will be calls for USDA to pull the rule and rewrite it. Barring any significant political pressure, that’s probably not likely. Thus, should the proposed rule come to pass, both sides will gear up for what will inevitably be a long and expensive legal fight to determine the industry’s future.

That’s truly unfortunate. At a time when the industry’s future looks as bright as it has in quite some time, we will once again redirect time and energy to circling the wagons and firing inward rather than moving forward. So perhaps it’s not accurate to speculate that nothing much will come from this week. Perhaps this week will leave a lasting and frighteningly negative legacy that the industry will be long in overcoming.