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Argentina's Beef Industry Crisis

The downturn in orders for finished leather in Argentina, has sent the prices of hides tumbling at the meat plants of country. The price per hide has gone from $35-40 to $10-12 per hide.

This money was traditionally relied apon by the beef plants to cover the costs of production and transport, leaving change of $10-12 per head. Today's reality is that the beef plants have to pay an additional $15 to produce their beef.

Because of the weak economy, the United States is not buying leather for upholstery in the car industry.

Argentina is a leading global supplier of finished leather. As no hides are allowed to leave the country raw, they must be processed into leather within the country.

There have been 1,200 tannery workers laid off in the last two weeks with more lay offs expected.

While China still remains the main market for leather, the United States have always preferred Argentine leather for their automobile industry, making them the second largest market

The leather industry is worth well in excess of $1.2 billion a year to Argentine exports.

Checkoff, Beef Councils and Retailers Team Up for Holiday Roast Beef Promotion

It’s November and, for many state beef councils around the country, it’s beginning to look a lot like -- holiday roast time.

For beef councils, and their retail partners, “holiday roast” is not a generic term – it signals the annual launch of the holiday beef roast brochure promotion, a checkoff-funded effort that has helped distribute more than 3 million brochures to consumers since the promotion began 15 years ago.

Proactive state-retail promotions like this are one of the ways state beef councils invest their 50 cent portion of the $1 beef checkoff, after collecting that $1 and forwarding 50 cents to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board for national checkoff programs.

Greg Robey, a producer from Harrodsburg, Ky., and chairman of the Kentucky Beef Council, likes the visibility these brochures and other checkoff-funded Point of Sale (POS) materials deliver at the meat case.

“The materials are highly beneficial. If we can’t be there personally to educate the shopper, this may be our only opportunity to tell our story and bring attention to our beef products,” he said.

This year the roast brochure, which features premium and economical cuts, may convince budget-conscious consumers that a holiday beef roast is a good value, according to Jim Henger, who heads the checkoff’s national retail programs.

“Wholesale prices for middle meat cuts are much lower now, when compared to 52 weeks ago,” he said. “For the retailer, it’s an opportunity to feature middle meats during the holidays. Even with current economic conditions, that should give some consumers more beef roast-buying options and the incentive to continue serving it as the traditional holiday meal. The brochure’s recipes and photos stir the senses, which further encourages consumers,” Henger added.

It may be the holidays but when it comes to promoting beef, the checkoff never takes a day off, said Rob Noel, promotions director for the Washington State Beef Commission, which originated the beef roast brochure promotion. States and their retail partners believe if consumers have a memorable holiday beef meal, they’ll be more likely to continue buying beef year-round, he added.

This year, 25 participating beef councils will place 350,000 brochures in display racks at meat cases across the country. The colorful piece offers roast recipes for every budget, as well as tips to prepare and carve like a pro. Retailers love it, too, because it’s a valuable tool for their meat departments during the key holiday sales period.

“A lot of retailers now ask us ahead of time when the new brochure is coming out, and some are increasing their orders, because they found they were running out too early in the season,” said
Amy Halvorson, RD, LD, director of nutrition and consumer information for the Minnesota Beef Council. Minnesota will deliver 25,000 brochures to retailers this season.

This informative brochure is displayed right at the meat case, just when consumers are looking for festive inspiration and new ideas to enhance the season’s celebratory meals. They also want to purchase a fabulous, no-fail protein.

“Some consumers are hesitant about preparing a roast, especially a premium cut. At this time of year, they want to be sure it comes out perfect for family and social functions,” added Emilie Miller, director of retail and foodservice relations for the Northeast Beef Promotion Initiative (NEBPI). “The brochure is just what they need to increase their beef cooking skills and confidence.”

The NEBPI invests checkoff dollars by promoting beef in heavily populated urban areas along the East Coast and will distribute 25,000 brochures to selected retailers this holiday.

It’s not only the recipes but easy cooking directions that make the brochure so appealing, Washington State’s Noel added. In today’s hectic world, consumers are actually losing cooking skills. For example, he’s heard more than one cook experience an “Ah Ha!” moment upon learning that a beef roast continues to cook after it’s taken out of the oven. Standing time will effect whether the roast is rare, well or over-done. That one simple step could mean the difference between an astounding eating experience and a very disappointing one, Noel added.

Finally, the brochures help beef councils demonstrate their willingness to assist retailers in informing and satisfying consumer beef-buying needs throughout the year.

Mary Neese, with the Wyoming Beef Council, says the annual brochure promotion helps her stay in touch.

“In our state, distances between towns can be daunting, so the promotion is a good way for us to stay in touch with retailers,” she said. “Our chains and independent grocers welcome beef information and POS materials. In fact, we just surveyed them and every one asked us to continue both the holiday roast and summer grilling POS items.”

Alison Smith, director of consumer affairs for the Kentucky Beef Council, agreed: “We’ve been using POS materials for years and retailers just love them. We’re sending 20,000 pieces out this year.”

“Retailers appreciate the fact that the brochures and POS materials bring more beef sales opportunities to their attention and that in the end, their sales benefit from it,” added NEBPI’s Miller.

In addition to working with retailers, state beef councils usually find themselves on the culinary front lines with consumers at some time during the holiday season. Rob Noel remembered a frantic call he received one year:

“I had a call a day or two before the holiday from a desperate non-cook. She’d spent a lot of money on a premium roast and had no idea how to cook it,” Noel explained. “She was a new bride and was having the family to dinner for the first time. I calmed her down and gave her some easy, no-fail beef roasting information. She later sent us a nice thank-you note for helping her serve a beautiful dinner instead of a disaster.”

EPA Proposes "Cow Tax"

The Environmental Protection Agency issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public comment on whether it is appropriate to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from automobiles under the Clean Air Act. In order to regulate automobile emissions, the EPA would first have to make a finding that all greenhouse gases endanger public health and safety and should be classified as a "pollutant."

Essentially, the EPA is ruling on whether or not GHG emissions should be classified as endangering public safety. If that finding is made, all GHGs including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide would have to be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The problem with this approach is that once an endangerment finding is made, other provisions of the Clean Air Act are automatically triggered, creating much broader, costly regulation of other sectors of the economy, including agriculture.

Once an endangerment finding is made, Title V of the Clean Air Act requires that any entity with the potential to emit more than 100 tons per year of a regulated pollutant must obtain a permit in order to continue to operate.

For previously regulated pollutants, a threshold of 100 tons meant that only the largest of emitters were required to be permitted. For greenhouse gases, the situation is much different. Not only would power plants and factories, but also many office and apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, large churches and even large homes would be regulated. Literally hundreds of thousands of entities would be required to obtain permits.

The vast majority of livestock operations would easily meet the 100 ton threshold and fall under regulation. In fact, USDA has stated that any operation with more than 25 dairy cows, or 50 beef cattle would have to obtain permits. According to USDA statistics, this would cover about 99 percent of dairy production and over 90 percent of beef production in the United States.

As the proposal stands today, the permit fees would equate to a "tax" of $175 per dairy cow and $87.50 per beef cow.

Greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act would not only adversely impact livestock producers but all farmers. Crop production emits nitrous oxide from fertilizer and methane from rice production, and fields that emit 100 tons of carbon would also be subject to permitting requirements as well. Any Florida farm with 500 acres of corn, 250 acres of soybeans, 350 acres of potatoes or only 35 acres of rice would be forced to obtain Clean Air Act permits.

Emissions from farm machinery and energy used in production might also be added. Regulation of other economic sectors will result in increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs for all farmers and ranchers.

Speaking out Against Proposition 2

Ryan Armstrong is a third-generation egg farmer in Valley Center but fears he could be the last in his family.

“It will put us out of business,” said Armstrong, a leading voice in the campaign against a Nov. 4 ballot measure that would force farmers to invest heavily to provide more space for caged, egg-laying hens as well as veal calves and pregnant pigs.

But Sacramento-area farmer Nigel Walker said passage of Proposition 2 would send a message to the egg industry and retailers that consumers are willing to pay a small premium on a dozen eggs in return for treating hens more humanely.

“Nobody is trying to destroy the egg industry. We're trying to take it into the 21st century,” Walker said.

He allows hens for his Eatwell Farms specialty business in Dixon to roam pastures. Eatwell delivers weekly packages of eggs and produce to households.

Farmers are not the only ones divided. California veterinarians are split, with those who mostly specialize in farm-animal care opposing the initiative.

“I look at the science. I do this every day. It would be a bad idea,” said Nancy Reimers, a veterinarian specializing in poultry in Gustine, in the Central Valley.

Under Proposition 2, farmers by 2015 would have to provide hens with enough room to turn around freely and extend their wings. So-called battery cages that squeeze hens into a space less than the size of a letter-sized sheet of paper would be prohibited. Alternatives could include larger confinement areas, cage-free housing in the barn or free-range.

Ixchel Mosley, an Eastlake veterinarian, is president of the San Diego County Veterinary Medicine Association, which has endorsed Proposition 2.

“As veterinarians, we took an oath to relieve animal suffering. 'Battery' cages are certainly promoting suffering,” Mosley said.

Proposition 2 also would require more space for veal calves and pregnant pigs, but those industries have a limited presence in California, and several major pork and veal producers nationally already are moving away from confining pens. The battle over Proposition 2 is mostly over more space for egg-laying hens.

“These animals are sacrificed for the benefit of people. The least we owe them is to treat them humanely,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, the initiative's sponsor. The society has spent $3.5 million so far to promote the measure.

Opponents are attempting to capitalize on today's concerns over escalating food prices to sway voters. They also point out that eggs produced by confined birds elsewhere could still be sold in California.

“Pennies, nickels, dimes and dollars add up as today's prices for everything (increase) – not just eggs and not just food,” said Don Bell, a poultry specialist at the University of California Riverside. “Unjustifiable cost increases are a luxury we simply can't impose upon the public in today's troubled economy.”

Bell has been drawn into the debate because one of his economic analyses found that moving to a more spacious system of housing hens would cost consumers about a penny an egg. Proposition 2 supporters seized on that figure as supporting their own studies indicating that a shift would not take a huge bite out of consumers' pocketbooks.

Bell said the penny-an-egg estimate is an oversimplification and ignores the estimated $50 million cost to producers.

“This is not a trivial effect for the individual farmer, to the allied businesses associated with egg production and to the egg-consuming public,” Bell said in an interview. The average family consumes about 1,000 eggs annually, he said.

Pacelle countered that the national egg market is extensive and would provide a buffer against sharp price spikes as California farmers gradually move to comply with the measure. Also, with restaurants and grocery stores adding more cage-free eggs, that market will grow for farmers, he said.

“It's doomsday thinking that doesn't represent reality,” Pacelle said of claims that grocery stores will stock more expensive eggs or buy from Mexican farmers.

California produces about 6 percent of the nation's eggs and consumes twice that, said Dan Sumner, a University of California Davis agricultural economist. Egg production reached $330 million in 2007, generated by about 5 billion eggs from 20 million hens. Of those, less than 5 percent were laid by hens not kept in cages, Sumner said.

Sumner, in his study, warned of high costs to the farmer. Those who shift to less confined housing could experience a 20 percent increase in production costs, mostly attributed to higher feed, housing and labor expenses. As a result, he said, California farmers could not compete with imports from other states.

“The most likely outcome, therefore, is the elimination of almost all of the California egg industry over a very few years,” Sumner said in a statement accompanying his report.

After 60 years in business, Armstrong said his family's Armstrong Egg Farm will be one of those casualties. He said it would have to acquire up to 300 more acres of land and invest as much as $15 million in improvements to provide the required space for the family's 600,000-strong flock, if the permits could be obtained.

“I just don't see how it's possible to invest $15 million and produce an egg that costs just as much as it does today,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong does have about 60,000 cage-free hens, but he said the eggs they produce outstrip demand.

“Now that the economy has slowed down, there's really too many of them,” he said.

Proposition 2 is filled with flaws and unintended consequences, Armstrong said. He said he knows firsthand that cage-free hens are at greater risk of disease and fighting.

“It's just unhealthy. The welfare of the chicken is harmed,” he said.

Walker, the Dixon farmer whose eggs are mostly organic, said he once worked on a ranch where the animals were caged.

“It was abhorrent,” Walker said. “If anybody who buys eggs went to one of those factories, you would have a hard time convincing them to keep buying those eggs.”

Walker noted that many chicken farmers already blend cage-free hens into their operations, earning a premium for those eggs.

“They have already shown it can be done,” he said.

If passed, Proposition 2 would be the most sweeping of its kind, Pacelle said. Florida and Arizona voters passed narrower veal-and pork-related confinement ballot measures, but they didn't include hens.

Fearing a national trend, dozens of egg producers across the country are writing checks to help finance the opposition in California. Rose Acre Farms in Indiana contributed $517,000; Midwest Poultry Services, also based in Indiana, sent $250,000; and Herbruck's Poultry Ranch in Michigan delivered $117,000. Moark, a western Riverside County egg operation in Norco, was one of the big California donors, contributing $215,000.

Both campaigns are using veterinarians to promote their positions, and not without some controversy. The American Veterinary Medicine Association is neutral but has released statements warning of Proposition 2's broad effects. The California Veterinary Medicine Association has endorsed the initiative, prompting about 150 farm-animal veterinarians to form a breakaway group in protest.

Reimers, the poultry specialist, said widespread cage-free practices could lead to more salmonella poisoning in humans from contaminated eggs. Chickens could experience jumps in parasitic infections and disease, such as avian flu.

But Mosley, the San Diego-area veterinarian, said current caged practices expose hens and the public to similar risks.

“I question how much of this (opposition) is politics on behalf of the farmer,” Mosley said.

New Cuts of Beef Offer More Value

With food prices rising, beef promoters are pushing new cuts of meat to offer restaurant customers lower-priced steaks from meat that might otherwise have become hamburgers or roasts.

The newer cuts come at a lower price than sirloins and filets because they come from chuck, taken from the cow's shoulder area, or round, a cut toward the rear of the animal. Sirloins and filets come from the animal's fleshy middle.

Colorado Beef Council Executive Director Fred Lombardi says in some cases, the "new" steaks can sell for a third less than traditional steak, yet still bring in prices up to double that of ground beef.

The new cuts were demonstrated at a Colorado Cattlemen's Association conference in Colorado Springs.


Bronze Sculpture Takes Vision of Value Campaign to $5.12 Million

The Angus Foundation has announced that with $5.12 million in out-right cash gifts, pledges and planned giving commitments, it is steadily progressing toward its $11 million Vision of Value: Campaign for Angus fundraising goal. The new amount, reached by auctioning the “Looking to the Future” bronze at the Angus Foundation’s Supporter Recognition Event Nov.15, in Louisville, Ky., will help the Angus Foundation continue its mission of supporting the education, youth and research activities of the Angus industry.

Bob Schlutz, chairman of the Angus Foundation Board of Directors and Bryce Schumann, chief executive officer of the American Angus Association® welcomed supporters to the event. National Junior Angus Association (NJAA) Directors Mallory Trosper and Trey Davis introduced and recognized special guests and donors. Bob Funk of Express Ranches, Yukon, Okla., and Curtis and Ann Long of Briarwood Angus Farms, Butler, Mo., were presented beautiful plaques for their respective gifts and/or pledges of $100,000 or more to the Angus Foundation this year.

Walt Stinson, NJAA communications director, thanked the Angus Foundation for its support of NJAA programs and encouraged those in attendance to continue to support the Angus Foundation in its fund raising efforts. Stinson stated that a wide array of NJAA activities are funded by the Angus Foundation.

Chairman of the campaign leadership cabinet Howard Hillman updated the Angus Foundation supporters on the progress of Vision of Value: Campaign for Angus. He highlighted the exciting growth the campaign has undergone this year as well as emphasizing the need to continually give and encouraged others to join in this effort.

“With your ongoing support, the Vision of Value: Campaign for Angus will continue to benefit everyone in the Angus industry, including breeders and commercial producers, friends of the breed and allied industry partners,” Hillman stated. “It is vital to the Angus breed to have the support that enables us to fund life-long education, exciting youth programs and cutting-edge research.”

The evening’s festivities ended with the auctioning of the Curtis Fort bronze, “Looking to the Future” by auctioneer Col. Steve Dorran. With a winning bid of $40,000, Belle Point Ranch, Lavaca, Ark., Tanner Farms, Shuqualak, Miss., and Whitestone Farms, Aldie, Va., purchased the bronze sculpture. Before making his closing remarks, Bob Schlutz was recognized with a plaque for his years of service as chairman of the Angus Foundation Board of Directors.

For more information on the Vision of Value: Campaign for Angus, please contact Milford Jenkins, President of the Angus Foundation, at 816-383-5100 or visit


For More Information Contact:

Kelli Armbruster at 816-383-5175 or [email protected]


Delegates Elect Leaders at American Angus Association’s 125th Annual Meeting

Jay King, Rock Falls, Ill., was elected the American Angus Association® president and chairman of the board at the group’s 125th Annual Convention of Delegates, Nov. 17, 2008, in Louisville, Ky. He follows Paul Hill, Bidwell, Ohio.

Bill Davis, Sidney, Mont., was chosen by the delegates to serve as vice president and vice chairman of the Board. Joe Hampton, Mount Ulla, N.C., will serve as treasurer for the year. Five individuals were elected to the Association’s board of directors, including Arlen Sawyer, Bassett, Neb.; Doug Schroeder, Clarence, Iowa; Darrell Silveira, Firebaugh, Calif.; Jim Sitz, Dillon, Mont.; and Gordon Stucky, Kingman, Kan.

More than 360 elected delegates from 40 states, the District of Columbia and Canada represented American Angus Association members and conducted the business of the Association during the annual meeting and election. The meeting was at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in conjunction with the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) Super Point Roll of Victory (ROV) Angus Show. Commemorative activities were also conducted to celebrate the Association’s 125th Anniversary.

King is a lifelong resident of Illinois. He and his wife, Chris, as well as their children and families, reside in Rock Falls. King owns and operates Sandrock Farms - Sauk Valley Angus with his daughter and son-in-law.

Sauk Valley Angus hosts two production sales annually and has been enrolled in Angus Herd Improvement Records (AHIR®) since 1992. Ten Sauk Valley owned cows reached Pathfinder® status in the 2008 Pathfinder Report. The Angus herd was one of the first to be enrolled in the University of Illinois Beef Performance Testing Program. The farm also includes more than 10,000 acres of row crops, vegetables and forages.

Youth programs are important to King. He was active in 4-H and served as a district and state officer in FFA. He was a charter member of the Illinois Junior Angus Association and served on its first board of directors. Both of his children were also active in the junior Angus programs and represented Illinois in the National Junior Angus Showmanship Contest.

During his term on the Association’s board of directors, King has served on numerous committees as well as the boards of Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB), Angus Productions Inc. (API), and Angus Foundation.

As Association president, King will serve as chairman of the executive committee and work closely with all directors to lead the board during the next year.

Bill Davis, the Association’s newly elected vice president, recently completed his second three-year term on the Board and year as treasurer. He and his wife Jennifer operate Rollin’ Rock Angus near Sidney, Mont. He is a past director of the Montana Stockgrowers Association and Montana Angus Association, in addition to being past director and president of the Montana Beef Performance Association.

As vice president and vice chairman, Davis will serve on the executive, breed improvement, finance & planning, and information & data management committees. He will also serve as chairman of the API board and is on the CAB board.

The American Angus Association is the world’s largest beef breed organization and provides programs and services for thousands of commercial producers and nearly 33,000 active regular and junior members nationwide. Founded in 1883, the American Angus Association is a not-for-profit company with headquarters in Saint Joseph, Mo. It is the parent organization for Certified Angus Beef LLC, Angus Productions Inc., the Angus Foundation and Angus Genetics Inc.


Editors: Following is a brief biographical sketch of the five people who were elected to the American Angus Association Board of Directors at the 125th Annual Meeting.

Arlen Sawyer, Bassett, Neb.

Arlen Sawyer owns and operates A&B Cattle in Bassett, Neb. Arlen is the fourth generation to farm and raise cattle as the family has already celebrated the farm’s centennial. He was active in Block and Bridle, Little International, Rodeo Club and livestock judging team at South Dakota State University and received a degree in agricultural economics in 1975. Arlen and his wife, Becky, purchased land near Bassett and continued to grow their own herd of cattle while managing K Plus Angus Ranch and later Premier Angus and Silver Plume Angus. Since 1990, A&B Cattle has conducted a yearly bull sale and now oversees more than 500 cows. Sawyer will serve on the activities and industry relations committees during his first year on the board. He will also serve on the Angus Foundation board.

Doug Schroeder, Clarence, Iowa

Dedicated to the Angus youth of America, Doug Schroeder, Clarence, Iowa, has served as co-chairman of the National Junior Angus Show twice and Iowa Junior Angus Association co-advisor. He and his wife Glenda were named Advisors of the Year in 2006. He owns and operates Schroeder Angus which consists of 125 registered cows and more than 900 acres. They also manage 5,000 head of hogs annually through Rose Ave Pork. Schroeder worked for Pioneer International Hybrid after earning an agriculture business degree from Kirkwood Community College. He has been appointed to the activities and finance & planning committees and will also serve on the Angus Foundation board.

Darrell Silveira, Firebaugh, Calif.

Hailing from rich soils in Firebaugh, Calif., Darrell Silveira with Silveira Bros. raises cattle, alfalfa, wine grapes and almonds. For more than 34 years, Silveira has been in the ranching business and served on numerous agricultural related boards throughout California. He helped develop a specialized alfalfa seed that is marketed in America and internationally through a seed company he created. Silveira was instrumental in developing outlets for California breeders to showcase their programs through the annual California Angus Days female show and sale and a bull sale targeted for smaller scale producers. He attended California Polytechnic State University. He has been appointed to the information & data management and finance & planning committees.

Jim Sitz, Dillon, Mont.

Upon completion of his business and agricultural management degree at Brigham Young University, Jim Sitz returned home to his family’s ranches near Harrison and Dillon, Mont. They market more than 900 bulls each year through annual sales and are among the top in the nation for yearly registrations with the American Angus Association. Sitz Angus Farm had 94 cows reach Pathfinder® status in 2008. Sitz has served on the Montana Beef Council, Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Angus Association and currently serves on the Rocky Mountain Supply Agribusiness Board. Sitz will serve on the breed improvement, information & data management and industry relations committees on the board. He was also elected to the Angus Genetics Inc. board.

Gordon Stucky, Kingman, Kan.

Gordon Stucky, Kingman, Kan., was reelected to a second term on the American Angus Association Board of Directors. His family owns and manages the more than 500 head cow operation at Stucky Ranch. They sell 175 registered Angus bulls and 100 females yearly. Stucky is a 1981 graduate of Kansas State University. He is active in his community and with state programs and has been appointed to several positions in his role as a board member including the Product Enhancement committee at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Stucky is also the chairman of the annual 1,000 head commercial Angus female sale sponsored by the Kansas Angus Association. He will serve on the breed improvement and industry relations committees and chair the information & data management committee. He will also serve on the Angus Genetics Inc. and Angus Productions Inc. boards.

For More Information Contact:

Monica Jordan at [email protected] or call 816-383-5100

To request a photo please contact PR Photos at

[email protected]

Consumer Confidence Is All-Important

The greatest question in the cattle business right now is how the erosion in consumer confidence will affect beef demand? Initially, I was very hopeful that the close of the election cycle would bring an uptick in consumer confidence as media coverage turned more positive.

I also assumed the Obama team would focus on restoring consumer confidence going into the crucial holiday season. However, the Obama transition strategy seems to be to use the time between the election and the inauguration to lower expectations. Thus, any improvement will be seen as major progress.

I can’t argue with the wisdom politically of lowering the bar so much that any uptick can be viewed as a great victory. Certainly, very high expectations are a problem for any incoming administration.

Hopefully, continuing to make the case that we face unprecedented foreign policy challenges, and the worst financial situation since the Great Depression, are part of a short-term strategy. Once in office, I’m sure the rhetoric will change and the media will be very be receptive, which can’t come soon enough. After all, consumer confidence will be crucial for both beef demand and the overall economy.

But brace yourself for some interesting times. As Jonathan Weisman writes in the Wall Street Journal this week: “From autos to energy to banking, President-elect Barack Obama is promising to intervene in the economy in ways that Washington hasn't tried since the 1970s, favoring some industries and products while hobbling others.” (See the article at

And Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s newly named chief of staff, told business leaders Tuesday that "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," calling the current economic crisis: "an opportunity to do things you could not do before.”

Interestingly, however, a Rasmussen poll released today found that 70% of Americans are “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that U.S. policymakers know what they’re doing in regard to the economy. And that percentage is essentially the same among respondents, regardless of party affiliation.

Wild Horses Are A Case Study For All We Face

Madeleine Pickens, the wife of Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, made news this week with the announcement that she was willing to purchase and create a million-acre refuge for unadoptable wild horses, which otherwise would be euthanized by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM says the euthanasia measure is necessary to control the herds and protect the Western range.

It’s estimated that 33,000 wild horses and burros currently roam the open range in 10 Western states; BLM, which wants that population to be about 27,000, says it now has about the same number of animals in holding facilities as on the range. And the cost of maintaining these "excess" horses off the range is simply overwhelming the agency’s budget and options.

Pickens says the animals brought to her refuge would be sterilized, and she also would take any extra horses the BLM takes out of the wild each year. BLM spokesman Tom Gorey says the agency welcomes the offer, according the the Associated Press.

Like many people, I love the mystique surrounding wild horses. At the same time, I understand these animals are only wild in the sense that, at some point, they broke their tie to man for their day-to-day existence.

Those who know me know I have a passion for horses, but the wild-horse issue is illustrative of a lot of issues we face today. In the big scope of things, it’s not a big problem. But it’s an issue that has always been more about emotion than science, captivating the masses and building large constituencies who care deeply about the issue.

Millions have been spent and lots of legislation written on this issue. It’s the same emotion that led to the ban on horse slaughter. The lesson is that when the majority of the people have decided that something is worth protecting, then it will be protected at nearly any cost.

We’re seeing similar dynamics relative to animal welfare and the environment; if something is determined to need protection, the cost is immaterial. Thus, science shrinks as a factor in determining how these issues are dealt with; rather, political constituencies become the driver, and management of problems are removed from academic discussion to the court of public opinion.

Inevitably, what the environment or animals need protection from is either manmade or man himself.

Just try to explain to someone from Philadelphia that wild horses are no more "wild" than a pack of wild dogs, and you will be quickly labeled as some sort of evil barbarian. The response will be similar if you argue that some forms of environmental reforms are not needed or even counterproductive.

Sadly, these aren’t arguments that can be waged or won on the basis of facts, science or logic. It’s about philosophy and core beliefs, the myth and the story, and what people will feel good about doing. Perhaps most importantly, these are decisions that people don’t feel will affect their everyday life; so, they take the side that makes them feel the most altruistic.

If we can learn how to interject science and common sense into the wild-horse debate, I believe we could do the same for environmental or animal-welfare issues. I don’t know if it’s possible but our failure or success will be determined by how well we can create a story and solution that makes the average citizen feel they are doing the right thing for the greater common good.

Charlie Stenholm - An Ag Secretary On No One’s List

First of all, let me say I have nothing against the state of Iowa. I have criticized its senior senator, Charles Grassley, but then he’s criticized farmers in the South — unjustifiably.

Iowans are nice people. They take growing corn and soybeans very seriously, and they don’t try to grow cotton and rice. They’ve built a lot of ethanol plants, opening up some markets for Southern corn.

But that doesn’t mean we should have an Iowan for USDA Secretary, especially one with little experience in agriculture like former Gov. Tom Vilsack, who is being pushed for the position by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA).

Recent reports have tried to make Vilsack the frontrunner for the post in the new administration, ahead of such possibilities as Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union, and Rep. Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. (Peterson has said he’s not interested in the job.)

Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has been a Vilsack supporter since the latter ran for his first term as governor of Iowa in 1998. Grassley says he thinks it would be beneficial for the state to have an Iowan “close to the seat of power.”

Recently, Vilsack has written articles about carbon credits and renewable energy, apparently to establish some kind of credentials in agriculture. (He has been working for a law firm in Des Moines since dropping out of the Democratic primary race for president.)

With any luck, Vilsack’s candidacy for USDA Secretary will play out along the lines of the old Washington saying that those that don’t know, talk, and those that know, keep it to themselves.

A candidate who hasn’t been on anyone’s list is former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-TX), who represented Abilene for 26 years before Republicans gerrymandered him out of his House seat in 2004.

As the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee his last six years in Congress, Stenholm was one of the authors of the 2002 farm bill, which provided the basis for the new farm bill, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. A fiscal conservative, he helped lead the Blue Dog Democrats in Congress.

That might prove to be a problem for some members of the Obama circle, but the president-elect has assembled a team of economic advisers with widely divergent backgrounds. Maybe there’s room for a “maverick” Texan in his cabinet.

Vilsack, by most accounts, is a nice guy who can be very accommodating to his supporters. After two USDA Secretaries who seemed more interested in pleasing the White House, it would be nice to have someone who would work for farmers.

Editor's Note: Who do you think will be the next USDA Secretary? Vote at