“I think the painful reality for us is that Congress is not going to do that much more in 2014.”
Many in cattle country might not consider that pronouncement by Colin Woodall to be all that painful. But as the chief lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) explained to BEEF editors recently, such Congressional gridlock has a number of ramifications for cattlemen.
The first is that action on legislation important to the cattle industry, like immigration reform, tax reform, country-of-origin labeling and GIPSA marketing issues, won’t be addressed this year and, in some cases, maybe not for several years. So while a polarized Congress can’t hurt cattlemen, it can’t help them, either.
A gridlocked Congress also opens the doors for federal regulatory agencies to become more active and aggressive. “And the regulatory side is hot and heavy,” Woodall reports.
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Topping the list is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to redefine “Waters of the United States” by removing the word “navigable” from the definition. Woodall says that, as far as NCBA can tell, the new language would put even things like ditches under EPA jurisdiction.
“When EPA put this rule out, it did so under the guise of providing more clarity,” Woodall says. “But as we read the rule, we realized all it did was add to the confusion.”
So NCBA is trying to get a comprehensive list of what EPA considers water bodies that will be exempt. “That way we can show them all the other water bodies that are found on farms and ranches that won’t be exempt,” he says. (See “Submit Your Comments On EPA’s Water Grab”)
Another regulatory issue the cattle industry is watching very closely is a proposed rule from USDA that would allow Brazil to ship fresh and frozen beef into the U.S. NCBA is opposed to the rule, but Woodall says the U.S. beef industry needs to make it very clear where it stands. NCBA isn’t opposed to international trade and regards the concept of “regionalization,” which allows beef to be exported from regions of a country that have shown to be disease-free, as being sound.
“We know that, if for some reason, we were to ever get a case of foot and mouth disease in the U.S., we would want to utilize OIE’s guidelines on regionalization to make sure we are not completely shut out of our markets,” he says.
Rather, he says NCBA is concerned whether USDA did enough due diligence of Brazil’s processes in order to evaluate the risk. “And more importantly, we don’t believe Brazil has committed the resources to implementing the protocols to keep our U.S. domestic herd safe,” he adds. “A great example is the audit report that came out a couple of weeks ago from the Food Safety Inspection Service. They said there are problems implementing HACCP in Brazil and there are problem with SRM (specific risk material) removal, which is even more important now that we’ve had additional cases of BSE down there.”
So NCBA’s opposition has nothing to do with trying to prevent trade. “It has everything to do with keeping our domestic herd safe and insisting the protocols are followed,” he says.
A third issue on a long list of challenges facing the cattle industry from regulatory agencies is the five-year update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “We have some concerns because there is a lot of rhetoric trying to connect the dietary guidelines to sustainability. We don’t believe that’s the role for USDA to attach that to the dietary guidelines,” he says.
“The nutritional value of beef is something that should stand alone and we have years of data that support the inclusion of beef in the dietary guidelines. So that is mainly what we’re trying to do, point toward the studies that support our position in the diet and make sure we stay on the plate.”
Woodall says the process has become more of a discussion on activist priorities regarding what we eat in general, especially beef, rather than looking at nutritional value. “That is something we’re trying to talk to the House Committee on Agriculture about, to determine if there is something they can do to possibly move this to a 10-year process. We definitely believe the guidelines should be reviewed if there’s new science that pops up, but having the same fight every five years is getting kind of old from our perspective.”
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