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Articles from 2012 In August


Time Is Running Out On Two Issues

Time Is Running Out On Two Issues

Dealing with the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) from a beef industry standpoint is a lot like politicians dealing with the issue of entitlements. We know that HSUS’s ultimate goal is the destruction of our industry. We also know that unless entitlement reform is addressed, the spending will bankrupt our country. Still, nobody seems to want to tackle these issues head on.

HSUS has a carefully constructed public image that has little to do with its policy aims. Meanwhile, in the case of entitlement reform, any solutions to making such programs sustainable are hugely unpopular from a political standpoint; thus, very few politicians have been seriously willing to address the issue.

Nor is there a state cattlemen’s group out there that wants to take on HSUS directly; HSUS is too powerful, has too many lawyers, too many members, too much money, and too much clout in the minds of consumers. HSUS is aware of that and employs a divide-and-conquer strategy. HSUS knows it can't end livestock production in one fell swoop, but it's content to chip away over decades, taking a piece at a time, until a viable industry no longer exists.

Industry Hot Topic: Addressing The Emotion Of Animal Welfare

Tackling the federal debt and saving entitlement programs means slowing the growth of these programs, which entails the courage to draw a line in the sand and bring spending growth in line with the overall growth of the economy. Up to this point, however, any individual or small group of politicians who have advanced the idea has found themselves in a political firestorm.

Like runaway entitlements, which threaten the overall economy and will bankrupt this nation if left unchecked, an unaddressed HSUS will eventually achieve its professed goal of ending livestock production.

The only hope is for true leaders to step forward, and the majority of voters and/or producers having the fortitude to bear the sacrifice to support them, for the long-run greater good. From an industry standpoint, modern agriculture, science and technology have to be defended if we are to remain competitive.

Both of these issues have to be addressed immediately; otherwise, we’ll just find ourselves past the point of return and sitting in the front row watching our own demise.

Checkoff Is Back In The Crosshairs

Checkoff Is Back In The Crosshairs

The lawsuit against the checkoff by the Organization for Competitive Markets with the help of the Humane Society of the U.S. was headline news at first. But as the dust settles, it’s become obvious that this is the same old strategy, just another tactic.

It’s unfortunate that the checkoff has been drawn into the crosshairs over policy differences, when the checkoff has nothing to do with policy. As expected, R-CALF and the J. Dudley Butlers of the world came out this week trying to rally support for the lawsuit on the basis of opposing National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) policy. It’s obvious that this suit is all about creating internal strife and trying to damage the NCBA brand.

A Closer Look: OCM, HSUS Go After Checkoff In Court

It isn’t surprising to me that these battles take place. After all, R-CALF has no hope of changing the views or votes of the majority of producers who are NCBA members, nor of the vast majority of producers who support the checkoff program. Everyone understands what the lawsuit is intended to do, and it has nothing to do with the checkoff.

The real question isn’t about the lawsuit. This battle will cost the industry dollars, and likely create more animosity between the two sides. The real question is whether it’s possible to resolve this because everyone – or most everyone – agrees it’s not in the industry’s best interest to see the checkoff used as a political football.

One obvious solution would be to abandon the industry’s unified structure. Everyone agrees on, and understands, the importance of the firewall between policy and promotion. And no one seriously alleges that the firewall has been breached or that anyone ever made any attempt to do so.

In addition, everyone agrees that the unified structure did what it was intended to accomplish – it made the industry’s efforts at building beef demand more effective and magnified the value received from our checkoff dollars. Still, virtually everyone would also agree that opponents of NCBA’s policy side have believed from day one that the checkoff is benefiting NCBA somehow.

In reality, it probably has. NCBA’s checkoff activities have increased the visibility of NCBA’s policy side, and created other synergies. But, while the opponents of NCBA’s policy know they can’t change the minds of the thousands of producer members who create and direct policy, the fact that the nexus exists creates friction.

Personally, I’ve always felt the gains in efficiency and effectiveness created by the unified efforts have outweighed the negatives that have been accrued to NCBA’s policy side, and to the checkoff in general. But perhaps it’s time to look at that tradeoff more closely.

Certainly, the industry appears to have benefited. The arrangement, however, has also increased industry internal strife and limited the industry’s ability to speak with a unified voice. While the industry has only has one voice of any consequence in Washington, D.C., and that’s NCBA, the effectiveness of that voice has been diminished by the continual fomenting of internal strife. Most everyone would love to return to the days when industry battles were waged in the industry’s meeting rooms, followed by votes and a unified stance.

Sadly, however, those days are gone. In its place, a whole new industry and set of organizations have been created that rely on maintaining and deepening industry strife and conflict.

The attempts to alter checkoff spending at this point will be mostly about semantics. What other group has the capability or the desire to perform the work that is done for the checkoff – at no profit? NCBA merely serves as a pass-through mechanism for checkoff dollars because the original Act and Order required that only industry organizations can be contractors. And while the contractor base might hopefully be expanded by the proposed changes to the rules, the majority of the contracts will still go to those with the greatest capability to carry them out in a cost-effective manner.

Checkoff dollars have been closely guarded to make sure they are used effectively, and the checkoff’s Operating Committee should be commended for making sure that the dollars have been spent effectively and appropriately. The greatest irony is that the checkoff has become a political football.

Perhaps it all can be summed up by the statements by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) leadership, which basically stated that if NCBA didn’t want this lawsuit, the cattlemen’s organization should have stayed out of the poultry industry legislation that HSUS championed but was defeated with the help of NCBA.

If you can’t stop opponents of the industry or opponents of NCBA policies from using the checkoff as a political weapon, maybe it’s time to ask how does the industry prevent the checkoff from being put in this position, even if means we’re less effective in building beef demand. 

Corn Crop Continues To Jangle Industry Nerves

Corn Crop Continues To Jangle Industry Nerves

How bad is the corn crop? That’s the million-dollar question. USDA has lowered its harvest predictions to just slightly above 10 billion bu., but analysts contend the number is either largely overstated or understated. This is unique because the drought is not something new, and harvest is already well underway in parts of the Corn Belt.

The crop is made, so why is there still such debate about the crop size? While everyone agrees it will be dramatically smaller, just how much smaller is still in debate. Part of that is due to conflicting information. The eastern Corn Belt, for instance, appears to have been brutalized by the weather, while the fringe areas of the Corn Belt are better than expected. In addition, we have record acreage and we’re likely to see record acreage harvested in one form or another.

Yet, we’re also expecting yields to be off of the trend line to a degree we haven’t seen for a long time. Then you throw in the new marketplace created with the subsidization of the ethanol industry and there seems to be some real uncertainty about where prices will land this fall. Has the market priced in the current harvest at today’s record prices or is there significant more upside potential?

My View From The Country Blog: Corn Crop Woes Take A Toll On Cattle

Because of the widespread nature of this drought, the implications for the industry go far beyond the effect that corn prices will have on calf prices this fall. But while the difference between $8/bu. and $10/bu. corn is monumental in the short term, the greatest impact for the cattle industry is likely to be in the long term.

$10/bu. corn will cause massive liquidation in the short term and affect the size of the industry in the long term – even when weather conditions improve. The added volatility and uncertainty make all of the marketing and management decisions created by this drought all the more difficult, while increasing their significance at the same time. The stakes have never been higher.

Technology Pays In Beef Production

Jude Capper, adjunct professor at Washington State University and a livestock sustainability consultant, looks at what would happen if U.S. beef producers stopped using productivity-enhancing technologies. The answers are revealing.

Read more on Capper's research in "Without Efficiency Technologies, The World Would Suffer."

Pfizer Animal Health, Partners Donate More Than $1.1 Million To FFA, AABP, AAEP Programs

Pfizer Animal Health, in partnership with veterinarians, animal health suppliers and dealer customers, continues to support youth in agriculture through its Performance Pays Spring 2012 program. The spring program raised $1,173,421 to benefit FFA chapters nationwide, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) Foundation and, new this year, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Foundation. Since its inception in 2008, the support program has raised more than $4.7 million to benefit students through these organizations.
 
“The ongoing partnership through this program with veterinary clinics and animal health suppliers has provided much-needed financial support for FFA chapters and veterinary students,” says Rob Kelly, vice president, U.S. Cattle and Equine Operations, Pfizer Animal Health. “Each and every veterinary clinic, retailer and animal health distributor understands the growing importance of supporting tomorrow’s agricultural leaders, and this program gives them a chance to directly impact these young people.”
 
Between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2012, a portion of funds from purchases of eligible Pfizer Animal Health cattle and equine products was directed to local FFA chapters, and/or veterinary student scholarships through the AABP and AAEP foundations. As a result, this spring’s program means more than 1,300 designated FFA chapters from 46 states collectively received more than $1 million to support chapter activities. In addition, the AABP Foundation – Pfizer Animal Health Veterinary Student Scholarship Fund received more than $86,500 and the AAEP Foundation received $16,000.
 
This support makes a difference in the lives of FFA members and veterinary students. It means an opportunity for the Scott Community High School FFA chapter in Scott City, Kan., to improve its chapter and community.
 
“FFA gives students a broad knowledge of agriculture, but it’s not just agriculture. It also teaches leadership skills and helps prepare us for later on in life, whether preparing for college or for the workplace,” says Tyler Hall, chapter reporter, Scott Community High School FFA. “The support helps a lot. It gives us more time to focus on chapter development instead of just on fundraising.”
 
In fact, this support has enabled students to gain experience at events across the country and advance their knowledge, said Kiersten Scott, chapter president, Scott Community High School FFA.
 
“We get to better our education with additional classroom tools, and by going to as many as 15 CDEs (career development events) every year, including trips to livestock and meat judging events,” Scott says. “We are also able to use the support to give back to our community.”
 
Financial support also is making a difference for people like Timothy Perano, a former University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine student who received a $5,000 scholarship from the AABP Foundation – Pfizer Animal Health Veterinary Student Scholarship Fund. The money helped alleviate some financial pressure with the opening of his own practice, Perano Veterinary Practice, located in Jackson, Calif., immediately following graduation.
 
“I wasn’t originally planning on starting my own practice immediately, so it’s a tremendous blessing to have fewer student loans to deal with as I start out,” Dr. Perano says. “I really do appreciate all the donors who help support the students, as it’s a great encouragement through school as you face the ever-increasing cost of tuition.”
 
The newest beneficiary of the program, the AAEP Foundation, is committed to supporting the future of large-animal veterinarians through scholarships.
 
“We are grateful for this opportunity to offer students the chance to focus on their studies and future careers — not the cost of tuition,” says C. Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, Ph.D., DSc, FRCVS, Diplomate ACVS & ACVSMR, AAEP Foundation chairman. “We want to give every student the opportunity to extend their education, and the cost of college can be a significant hurdle for the success of veterinary students.”
 
Support of FFA, the AABP Foundation and the AAEP Foundation is a component of Pfizer Animal Health’s Commitment to Veterinarians™ platform, which offers support through training and education, research and development, investing in the future of the veterinary profession, and philanthropy. For more about Commitment to Veterinarians, visit www.vets.pfizerah.com; see our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pfizeranimalhealth; or follow @Commitment2Vets on Twitter.
 
For more about how to help advance the animal health industry through the Performance Pays program from Pfizer Animal Health, call 866-611-2626 or visit www.pfizerperformancepays.com.
 
About Pfizer Animal Health
Pfizer Animal Health, a business unit of Pfizer Inc, is a global leader in the discovery, development and manufacture of animal vaccines, medicines, diagnostic products and genetic tests. We work to assure a safe, sustainable global food supply from healthy beef and dairy cattle, swine, poultry, sheep and fish while helping dogs, cats and horses live healthier longer lives.  We strive to be the animal health company that provides full healthcare solutions to veterinarians, livestock producers, and pet owners. To learn more, visit https://animalhealth.pfizer.com.

Opinion: Japan, Indonesia Look To FMD Free-Zoned Meat

Opinion: Japan, Indonesia Look To FMD Free-Zoned Meat

The desire for countries to access cheaper meat from FMD-based countries is a growing trend amongst meat-consuming nations. Indonesia has recently announced it’s considering changes in legislation to enable importers to source beef from FMD-free zones.

The driving force behind the move is the growing disparity in world beef prices between non-FMD countries and FMD countries, and the prices received for their meat exports. This price difference is most obvious in the high-priced U.S. market, which is buying non-FMD country meat like Australia at a 30 % premium over FMD country meat levels. This price premium is expected to be maintained or even widen due to the drought-stricken U.S. beef herd.

For all the same reasons, I believe it is that price disparity that is driving this week’s announcement by both Argentina and Brazil to challenge the U.S. government’s long-time policy on not accepting fresh beef from FMD countries. Brazilian Minister of Agriculture Mendes Ribeiro Filho says the Brazilian government is looking into the possibility of joining forces with Argentina on challenging the U.S. within the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Japan’s decision to import Brazilian pork highlights how close Japan is to accepting the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina’s other meat items like beef into the Japan retail sector. Santa Catarina has a cattle population at 3.5 million head.

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture's animal sanitation risk commission completed its assessment of Brazilian pork imports this week and held a public meeting discussing its findings. The discussions were reported as favorable to the interests of Brazil.

Pedro de Camargo Neto, executive president of the Brazilian Pork Exporters Association (Abipecs), said recently that exports to Japan would have begun in 2011, but the March 11 tsunami and an FMD outbreak in Japan delayed the start.

These world beef price differences have also forced Indonesia’s government to consider changing its regulations on importing frozen beef and live cattle from FMD countries. The legislation being drafted would allow Indonesia to source cattle from any zone free of FMD.

Local Indonesian consumers have been complaining about rising beef costs and the increasing circulation of illegal beef imports. The Indonesian government’s challenge is to control and legitimize this cheaper beef.

This would mean that Indonesia would move from a country-based classification system to a zone-based system enabling Indonesia importers to accept beef and cattle imports from FMD-free zones – states or regions – from nations like India, Brazil and Argentina.

U.S. resists Brazil/Argentina push

It’s this exact same zone-based system that Brazil and Argentina want the U.S. government to recognize and adopt. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has approved regions that have been vaccinated against FMD and are now registered as FMD free. USDA, however, doesn’t accept beef from these regions (with the exception of Uruguay)

This month’s USDA listing of export countries confirmed as FMD-free stood at 53, but only 22 have been given U.S. export access. Another 29 countries have been refused access because they either share a common border with an FMD country or they currently import FMD-country products in one form or another.

Argentina’s frustration is due to OIE’s recognition of the southern Patagonia region as free of FMD without vaccinations since 2003. While the U.S. government has expressed its willingness to accept this region’s beef, it has delayed the authorization.

Provision under WTO has been made for countries like Argentina to argue they meet USDA standards under the sanitary and phytosanitary measures agreement first established when WTO came into being in 1994. This was put in place as a mediation procedure but little progress has been made.

This week, the Argentina Trade Office complained that the U.S. needs to complete the necessary phytosanitary tests (after a decade) so that Argentine meat products can access that market. “It is evident that the impediments imposed on Argentine goods are part of a U.S. protectionist policy inconsistent with the rules of WTO,” the trade office charged.

Russia to approve more Brazilian plants

The desire to access lower beef prices from FMD-based countries is also occurring from Brazil into Russia. Russian veterinary inspectors have just completed another round of meat plant inspections in Brazil with the latest inspections involving 20 meat plants across six Brazilian states.

As of July, the increase in shipments from Brazil to Russia increased by 27.3% (22,952 mt) compared to the same time frame last year. With more plants expected to be approved this quantity is likely to increase dramatically.

Simon Quilty is an Australia-based freelance writer on meat topics and trade.

Drought Pushes Borrowing Higher, Land Prices Lower

Drought Pushes Borrowing Higher, Land Prices Lower

“The drought is dampening economic activity across the region,” says Creighton University economist Ernie Goss. “Companies with close ties to the farm, such as ethanol, and agriculture equipment sellers are experiencing pullbacks in growth. I expect food processors to take a hit later in the year as higher food prices work their way through the system.” 

In his monthly survey of rural banks throughout the heartland, 31% of bankers say the drought is negatively affecting business activity in their area for August. The Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI), which ranges between 0 and 100 with 50.0 representing growth neutral, declined for the third straight month to 47.1, from 47.9 in July.

RMI is a unique index covering 10 regional states, focusing on approximately 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300. It gives the most current real-time analysis of the rural economy.

According to Jim Eckert, Anchor State Bank president, Anchor, IL, “Uncertainty over future tax policy and the costs of ‘Obamacare’ have many of our farm and commercial customers sitting on the sidelines in borrowing and hiring staff.”

However, rural banks have ample money to loan, according to a survey by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. “Bankers indicated ample funds were available for farm loans, and interest rates edged down further,” the survey indicates.

Here’s a look at how the RMI breaks down:

Farming: According to surveys for the past several months, farmland price growth has weakened significantly. However, there is a great deal of variance across the region with irrigated areas and those not impacted by the drought continuing to report solid growth. The August farmland price index (FPI) weakened with an August reading of 52.8, down from July’s 58.6, the lowest level since July 2009.

The Kansas City Fed survey found similar results. “After surging at the beginning of the year, district farmland values rose less rapidly during the second quarter,” says Jason Henderson, Omaha branch executive. “District farmland values rose less than 3% during the second quarter, roughly half the rate of growth at the beginning of the year,” Henderson says. Non-irrigated cropland values rose solidly, while irrigated cropland values held steady and ranchland values edged up.

In spite of weakening land values, this is the 31st consecutive month that Creighton’s FPI for farmland values has been above growth neutral. The farm-equipment sales index sank to 38.3, its lowest level since October 2008, and was down from July’s 46.1.

“The drought is putting a dent in farmland price growth and the purchase of agriculture equipment, including trucks,”says Goss, the Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton, Omaha, NE.

This month, bank CEOs were asked about the drought’s impact on farm borrowing. About 41% said the drought has encouraged greater agriculture borrowing. This is up significantly from July when only 29% of bankers reported an increase in borrowing as a result of the drought.

Additionally for August, 46% of bankers reported that livestock producers in their area were reducing their herd size in response to the drought. Last month, only 13% of bankers reported that livestock producers were doing so.  

Bill Hess, CEO of Iowa Savings Bank in Carroll, IA, reports that the drought and high grain prices have caused livestock finishers to reduce risk by cutting numbers.

Banking: Farmers increased their demand for loans with the loan-volume index climbing to 67.6 from July’s 65.3 – the sixth consecutive month that the index has risen.  

The checking-deposit index advanced to a weak 49.1 from 47.9 in July, while the index for certificates of deposit and other savings instruments slumped to 33.0 from July’s higher 41.7. “The drought appears to be increasing the cash needs of farmers in the region. We have been tracking a reduction in the percent of farmland and farm equipment cash sales and upturns in the degree of bank financing,” Goss says. 

Hiring: August’s hiring index declined to 51.9 from July’s 52.8. “Even though we tracked hiring growth for the month, the index was down from July and June. I expect hiring to drift lower with job losses in the months ahead as the impacts of the drought spread to more and more rural mainstreet businesses,” according to Goss.

Confidence: The confidence index, which reflects expectations for the economy six months out, sank to 39.6 from July’s 40.9 and June’s much stronger 58.5. “The drought has definitely lowered the economic and business confidence of bank CEOs in the area,” Goss says.

Home and retail sales: The August home-sales index rose to 60.2 from July’s 58.6, with the August retail-sales index rising to 45.2. That’s below growth neutral, but up from July’s 44.4. “The pace of sales for homes in the area remains positive. On the other hand, for a second straight month, drought conditions weakened retail sales,” Goss adds.

State-by-state outlook

Each month, community bank presidents and CEOs in nonurban, agriculturally and energy-dependent portions of a 10-state area are surveyed regarding current economic conditions in their communities and their projected economic outlooks six months down the road. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are included. The RMI survey represents an early snapshot of the economy of rural, agriculturally and energy-dependent portions of the nation.

Colorado: After 19 straight months with an RMI above growth neutral, Colorado plummeted to 25.2 from July’s weak 50.1 and June’s 57.6. The FPI and ranchland price index (RPI) declined to 44.2 from 61.3 in July. Colorado’s new hiring index (NHI) for August was 43.0, well down from July’s 51.8. Mike Bass, president of the First National Bank of Hugo said, “The drought has not affected tourism/recreational spending in Colorado, but the fires across the state have had a major impact on tourism.”

Illinois: For a third straight month, Illinois’ RMI remained below growth neutral. The August index slumped to 34.4 from July’s 36.1. Farmland prices were below growth neutral with a reading of 45.3 for August, down from July’s 50.4. The state’s NHI dipped to 43.7 from July’s 44.6.

Iowa: August RMI rose to 49.2 from July’s 48.6. FPI declined to 57.2 from July’s 63.5. Iowa’s NHI for August dipped to 51.6 from 53.3 in July.

Kansas: RMI for August advanced to 50.1 from July’s 43.2. FPI sank to 53.2 from 58.4 in August, while the NHI decreased to 48.9 from 49.9 in July.

Minnesota: August RMI declined to 52.9 from July’s 54.6. FPI dipped to 60.3 from 66.2 in July, while NHI decreased to 53.7 from July’s 55.1.Minnesota has been spared much of the negative drought impacts. Pete Haddeland, CEO of First National Bank in Mahnomen, says, “Our crops here still look good. We have had the right amount of rain at the right time. The hot summer has had a positive impact on our resorts.”

Missouri: RMI declined to 39.8 from 44.3 in July, with FPI slipping in August to 44.6 from 50.2 in July, and NHI dropping to 31.6 from 35.8 in July.

Nebraska: For a second straight month, growth in Nebraska’s rural economy moved into negative territory. August RMI rose to 44.1 from July’s 43.4, and FPI slipped to 48.9 from July’s 52.3. NHI advanced to a weak 46.0 from July’s 45.8.

North Dakota: The North Dakota RMI declined but remained strong with a regional high of 72.1, down from July’s 75.6. FPI slipped to 68.9 from 73.6 in July, while NHI rose to 67.8 from 66.4 in August.

South Dakota: RMI expanded to 52.2 in August from July’s 46.7. FPI dipped to 49.3 from 50.4 in July, and NHI increased to a still weak 46.3 from July’s 44.6.     

Wyoming: RMI slumped to 36.7 from July’s 39.3, while August FPI and RPI declined to 49.5 from July’s 52.3. NHI remained below growth neutral but advanced to 46.4 from July’s 45.8.

It’s Time For The State Fair

It’s Time For The State Fair

This week marks the beginning of the South Dakota State Fair, which runs through Labor Day. For our family, it’s our annual vacation. We load up kids, cattle and the camper and head to the fair.

I sarcastically call it a vacation because it’s more work than play -- clipping and fitting calves; running from my sister Kaley’s 4-H speeches, to her FFA steer show and back home to her volleyball game; packing food for all of us for a week and tying down loose ends at home before we go -- the fair certainly takes its toll on kids and cattle. Still, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Sure it’s a lot of work, but it’s also a great time to showcase your cattle, network with other producers and take in something fun like going to a concert, riding the ferris wheel or taking a stroll through junk food alley -- there’s something for everyone!

In honor of state fair week, I thought I would round up some old blog posts and photo galleries. Here’s a few I think you might like:

State Fair Memories Photo Gallery
Cattlewomen Share Their Passion For Beef At The State Fair
Cloned Steer Wins Iowa State Fair Cattle Show

I think it's important to remind all 4-H and FFA families exhibiting at state fairs across the country that this is an opportunity to be proactive and share the agriculture story with consumers as they walk down the aisles looking at the cattle.

Sure, it can be bothersome when their strollers get in you and your steer's way when you're walking to the showring, and the last thing you want is to let a city kid pet and pat down the hair on your fitted animal, but put on a smile and welcome their questions and comments -- this is the one time each year where they get to have a first-hand look at animal agriculture. Make sure you leave them with a positive impression. Consumer perceptions and demands will greatly impact the way we do business in the future, so keep that in mind when you are in the spotlight at the state fair. Be a great advocate for the beef industry; here's your chance!

A Closer Look: Producers Must Promote To Consumers

Do you go to your state’s fair each year? What’s your favorite state fair memory?

Beef

OCM, HSUS Partnership Makes For Strange Bedfellows

OCM, HSUS Partnership Makes For Strange Bedfellows

U.S. livestock producers were shocked earlier this year when the United Egg Producers snuggled up with the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) to lobby Congress for layer legislation. But that was nothing compared to the August thunderbolt when the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) slipped under the covers with HSUS.

OCM, with the backing of HSUS, is seeking a court injunction to prevent the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) from being a contractor to the beef checkoff. OCM contends NCBA “promotes an industrial model of beef production, processing and marketing.” Meanwhile, HSUS would love to weaken the dominant and most influential beef industry trade organization in the country, as it works toward its goal of ending livestock agriculture.

OCM has been stymied on a succession of legislative and regulatory fronts, the most recent being the GIPSA livestock marketing rule. So an end run through the courts – bankrolled by HSUS – apparently looks too good to pass up.

During its annual meeting in August, Fred Stokes, OCM president, described HSUS this way: “HSUS understands the family farmer and rancher was kinder to farm animals than the corporate farms. … they want to be a party to an alliance or coalition to see that this little remnant of independent family agriculture remains and we are very eager to accept that support.”

However, the latest survey of producer attitudes regarding the checkoff found that 75% of respondents support the checkoff and its work, and only 15% say they disapprove of the checkoff. In addition, more than 80% think the program plays a positive role in influencing consumer demand for beef, while 70% agree with the idea that the program has helped contribute to the profitability of their operation over time. Two-thirds give positive marks to checkoff management.

So who exactly are OCM and its HSUS pals trying to save?

NCBA responded that “OCM claims to advocate for a fair, competitive agricultural marketplace, but producers should know that OCM is working with an extremist animal rights group to disable a program dedicated to building demand for beef.”

NCBA wasn’t alone. Jon Wooster, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association president, said his group was “disappointed OCM has chosen to align themselves with this group which has certainly demonstrated their animosity to animal agriculture and cost our industry countless dollars.”

The OCM/HSUS pairing is a weird marriage. Is OCM naïve, or just so consumed with hate for NCBA and free enterprise that it’s blinded to the fact that HSUS will eventually come gunning for them as well? After all, it isn’t the process that HSUS really objects to; it’s the idea of animals as food.