Presidential challengers often court voters by asking, “Are you better off than four years ago?” We decided to pose that question, in the industry sense, to Colin Woodall. As vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Woodall is the organization’s point man on Capitol Hill.
“I think it’s a mixed answer,” Woodall says. “When you look at our trade access, with the passage of the South Korea, Panama and Colombia free-trade agreements, we’re better off, no doubt about it. And I think we’re in a position to get better as we finalize the comprehensive BSE rule, which will put us in a situation where we are finally treating all of our foreign customers the way that we have asked to be treated; that is, full OIE acceptance of trade in a post-BSE world. So from that perspective we’re in better shape."
But Woodall says there are other areas where the industry hasn't fared so well under the current administration. He says that's true particularly on the environmental side, "specifically EPA and the concerns that we have right now with the continued push that we’re seeing from this administration to attack us. A great example is the Clean Water Act guidance, where EPA continues to try to redefine waters of the U.S."
Woodall's perspective mirrors the results of BEEF magazine’s exclusive annual reader survey conducted in April. In that survey, respondents describing themselves as more pessimistic about the long-term future of the beef business – five years and beyond – cited government regulations and oversight as their number-one concern. And that same factor ranked second, behind increased input costs, among respondents describing themselves as less optimistic about the short-term future of the beef business (the next two years). You can find a full report on the survey in the June issue of BEEF.
Here are the marks Woodall says he'd register on the administration's report card:
• Cattle marketing.“We’ll have to give them pretty low marks, and it’s a major function of what the industry had to deal with on the proposed GIPSA marketing rule that we fought and won on. Enactment would have had a devastating impact on what we, as an industry, have done in trying to implement branded programs and really differentiate our market. Definitely low marks here.”
• Federal lands.“This area has also been a continued fight. We feel we have great access to Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar. We’ve had the opportunity to build some relationships here, but it is one area that we haven’t had a whole lot of good news out of. And that concerns us because it involves such a big segment of our industry.”
• Animal welfare, including food safety and human nutrition. “I’d give good marks on the nutrition, food safety, animal welfare side. The food safety side, in particular, is one area in which we feel we have had a great relationship with USDA. We’ve been able to participate in a lot of meetings and a lot of the decision making of the Food Safety Inspection Service. While it hasn’t been all perfect, we do think it’s actually one of the bright spots in this administration.”
• Natural resources and the environment. “I’ll give a flat F on this one. That one is pretty easy just because of all the problems we’ve had with EPA.”
• Tax & credit. “We haven’t had as much interaction on this issue with the administration as we’ve had with Congress. Right now, the ball is really more in Congress’s court, but we haven’t seen support within the administration for a repeal or change in the death tax, for instance, so I’d probably have to attach C marks here.”
• Trade & the economy. “I’ll have to give President Obama an A is this area because he has really pushed these FTAs, which were a big priority for us. And the U.S. Trade Representative has been engaged in helping us maintain markets, to try to find new markets, and to try to work through a lot of the issues. We’ve been very pleased with our interaction with this administration on trade issues.”
Readers appear disposed for change
Readers responding to BEEF magazine’s latest state-of-the-industry survey appear hungry for a change in administration. Of all respondents to the BEEF reader survey, 55.1% believe the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction, while 24% disagree. Another 20.9% didn’t know. What’s more, 74.8% of respondents indicated they intend to vote Republican in 2012, while just 7.8% said they will vote Democrat. Another 13.2% are undecided, and 4.2% say they will vote for neither political party.
What are the issues U.S. beef producers should keep in mind as they go to the polls? Woodall says the most critical issue of immediate concern is the current tax situation, specifically the status of the death tax.
"If Congress doesn’t get something done, then on Jan. 1, 2013, the exemption amount on the death tax drops to $1 million. And anything over that amount in a farmer or rancher’s estate would be taxed at 55%. I think everyone knows that you do not have to have a very large operation these days to have assets in excess of $1 million," he says.
In preparation for the November elections, Woodall says NCBA is working to ensure its members are educated on all the issues. "We think that’s absolutely the biggest criterion going into the polls. Not just for the presidential election, but probably more so for what happens with the House and especially the U.S. Senate. As we have seen in past administrations, having friends in Congress who understand farming and ranching is probably a better tool than actually having a White House that favors you because they have more opportunities to jump in and help you be successful."