More final thoughts on COOL, checkoff, beef demand & Trump

A blog post about Tomi Lahren’s interview with R-CALF USA drummed up some negative backlash. BEEF Daily Editor Amanda Radke responds to some of the rhetoric and clarifies her positions on hot industry topics.

Amanda Radke

January 10, 2017

7 Min Read
More final thoughts on COOL, checkoff, beef demand & Trump

Last week, I pointed out a few errors presented in Tomi Lahren’s interview with R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. My biggest beef with her “Final Thoughts” rant was when she slammed the safety and wholesomeness of conventional beef sold in grocery stores. She also ignored the fact that COOL was deemed illegal and would have resulted in costly tariffs on other consumer goods produced in the U.S. and exported to other countries.

READ: 5 observations on Tomi Lahren's rant on COOL

Not surprising, I received plenty of backlash from proponents of COOL, and I welcome the open conversation on hot topics such as this one. However, much like this presidential election that pitted liberals vs. conservatives in very extreme ways, I hate to see such polarized divide within the beef cattle industry. Together we stand, but divided we fall.

With external threats such as an outgoing president who wants to place every available blade of grass into national monument status or animal rights activists forming alliances with cattle ranchers in order to take down the beef checkoff, I fear we are in for some tough times as an industry. Some may disagree with me on this, but I don’t see where internal fighting gets us anywhere while we ignore the foxes chomping at the gates of our hen house.

But I’ve stood on that soap box before; now is time for a different one. In response to my blog post about Tomi Lahren, my Monday morning took a sour turn when I received an email from an angry reader who accused me of being a sellout writer without a soul. He called me, along with the editors at BEEF, evil, cheap, bought and paid for, cowardly, empty and heartless bags of stockyard manure — and that’s just a few of the nicer adjectives used in the email angrily written in all-capital letters regarding last week’s blog post on COOL.

Typically I would ignore such hostile and unproductive emails; however, I feel a follow-up blog post to clarify my positions on a few things might be warranted in this case.

First, I would premise to say that I work hard to check my biases at the door. I belong to no cattlemen’s organizations. It’s not that I don’t believe in what these outfits aim to accomplish, but as a writer, I want to be able to attend all meetings with a neutral standing.

My goal is always to listen to all sides, form my own conclusions from the information presented and opine about what I’ve learned on the BEEF Daily blog. I’m not bought and paid for. I owe no entity, advertiser, affiliate or group anything. What I write is my own two cents coming from the vantage point of a cow-calf producer — nothing more, nothing less.

Second, let me reiterate my thoughts on COOL. Growing up, my dad wouldn’t purchase anything — not a shirt nor piece of farm equipment — unless it had a Made In the USA sticker. I was raised to be a proud American, and I feel that pride to my very core. I believe in our products, our people and the U.S. cattle rancher. I’m a fifth generation beef producer. It’s in my blood. It’s my livelihood. It’s my passion. I hope my children will one day feel the same way about the beef cattle business.

So believe me when I say that I would love to see a Made In The USA sticker on American grown and raised beef. If the commentary on COOL is any indication, many of you feel the same way, and I believe we’ll see a resurgence of COOL rhetoric as the Trump administration steps into the leadership role. President-Elect Trump is a conservative nationalist and protectionist; I can see him being open to COOL and wanting to promote USA beef.

In the meantime, remember that voluntary COOL is still legal, so there are still valid ways to offer a distinction to our beef over another country’s, if the consumer really wants it and is willing to pay for it.

However, as it stands right now, the WTO declared mCOOL illegal on four separate occasions. That’s because the current mCOOL law is deeply flawed. For example, it would have given Canada and Mexico (two of our biggest beef export customers) the authority to retaliate against the U.S. in the amount of damages that WTO authorized—which was $3 billion. What’s more, estimates showed that complying with mCOOL would have cost cow-calf producers $9 per head and total cost of compliance for the first year, for the entire beef chain, would have been $1.25 billion.

Reactionary trade is a complex beast, one that is difficult to follow and understand. If you don’t like trade the way it stands right now, which Trump has said numerous times that he does not, then lobby to make changes in that arena first.

In the meantime, don’t let COOL escalate into this divisive “right or wrong” topic. I see friends on both sides of the discussion quickly turn into enemies through comments on this topic on Facebook. Surely there is a more reasonable way to discuss the pros and cons of this labeling conundrum without it escalating to such ugly responses. After all, calling industry writers, or anybody else, highly demeaning names is not the best way to win them over to your side.

And as it relates to the markets, from everything I’ve read, I don’t think dropping COOL was the main reason the markets tanked. Why are we ignoring all of the heavyweight steers that flooded the market at that time? Nobody complained about mCOOL and the “broken cattle markets” when things were at record highs!

The new year is bringing a rebound to the cattle markets — a trend that we all hope will continue. Let’s move forward and make sure our policies, our consumer promotions and our production methods are the best that they can be in order to find success in this business.

My third thought is this: we must continue to fight for market share at the center of the dinner plate. We are losing ground to competing proteins as pork and chicken are more affordable options for the consumer.

We cannot let beef become a novelty meat like lamb, and that’s why the attacks and lawsuits against the beef checkoff are so frustrating to me. It’s the one tool we have to respond to negative information presented in the media, and it’s hard to ignore the outstanding return on investment the checkoff brings back to the beef producer.

Safety, nutrition, beef preparation methods and our production stories are all important topics of conversation to have with our consumers. Allowing someone like Tomi Lahren to come along and place doubt on the safety and wholesomeness of conventional beef is unacceptable. We need to be our own voice, and we need to be strong and confident in our rhetoric to families on a budget that beef is the best protein and is worth the extra dollar.

In closing, I may have lost some readership due to my willingness to speak out on these polarizing topics. To the rancher who called me such callous names in his email, I appreciate your decades of experience and passion for this industry, but instead of attacking me for some preconceived notions you have about me, why not publicly comment on my blog posts and start a civil, productive conversation instead? We can only learn by communicating and sharing ideas, and that’s what my blog hopes to accomplish each day.

To everyone else who continues to loyally read this blog, I want you to know this — I aim to be a reasonable, logical, level-headed writer who evaluates all sides of the discussion before forming my own opinion. I’m a rancher, first and foremost, and I, too, felt the pain of these cattle markets just like so many of you did. I want what’s best for this industry, and I want to see my friends, family and peers thrive in this beef cattle business that we all love.

Finally, if you're still with me after such a lengthy post, I want to express my gratitude for this BEEF platform which offers the opportunity to entertain lively, informative and open discussions on important industry topics. In the words of Tomi Lahren, those are my “final thoughts,” and I would love to hear yours, as well. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, and thank you for your continued interest and readership.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.

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