By Dan Flynn | June 29, 2015
The move in Congress to repeal mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law for beef, pork and chicken is again turning up the fault lines among the three major organizations that represent American cattle producers.
While there are numerous state and local affiliates, the three big groups are:
- National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), based in Denver and formed in 1898.
- U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), based in San Lucas, CA, and formed in 2007.
- Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF), based in Billings, MT, and formed in 1998.
Only the USCA’s Leo McDonnell was invited to testify last week before the Senate Agriculture Committee on the possible imposition of $3.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs by Canada and Mexico unless COOL is repealed.
The U.S. House of Representatives already voted 300-131 to take the measure off the books because the World Trade Organization ruled that COOL is a non-tariff barrier to free trade and treats Canada’s and Mexico’s meat producers unfairly.
The Agriculture Committee’s hearing last week was labeled as “pathetically biased” by R-CALF on Twitter.
“Only one witness, Leo McDonnell representing the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, appeared to favor COOL, but he continually called for changing ‘mandatory’ COOL to ‘voluntary’ COOL so, he said, everyone call walk away a winner,” states an R-CALF press release.
Like R-CALF, USCA has long supported mandatory COOL, and its acceptance of a voluntary system comes only because of the potential cost to the industry of retaliatory tariffs. However, the larger NCBA has opposed COOL as being “without benefit to the U.S. cattle industry.”
R-CALF claims the Senate hearing was stacked with witnesses who now favor immediate repeal of COOL, leaving no one to defend the 13-year-old law. R-CALF, which claims to speak for the “independent” producer, is turning up the rhetoric.
Bill Bullard, R-CALF’s CEO, charged that retaliation threats by Canadian and Mexican officials are causing Congress and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to “literally quiver in their boots.” He called the lack of nationalism by U.S. officials is “pathetic.”
Bullard also says the U.S. government has “unwittingly accorded more autonomy and more authority to the World Trade Organization (WTO) than the United States accords to its own judicial system.” He says it’s “alarming” that foreigners are being allowed to decide the fate of U.S. laws passed under the U.S. Constitution.
Since the U.S. purchases 75 percent of Canada’s exports, Bullard also said it “makes no sense” for this nation to “act so pitifully” in the face of the “rantings” of Canada and Mexico.
COOL is only the latest issue on which R-CALF separates itself from the rest of the U.S. cattle industry. The group got its start over controversy involving the Canadian Wheat Board allegedly holding down prices to help its cattle producers gain advantage over U.S. ranchers. And, in 2003, R-CALF wanted the U.S. border closed to Canadian cattle when an Alberta cow turned up with BSE.
NCBA, which has both producers and processors under its big tent, sees forestalling retaliation as the main issue.
“COOL retaliation will have a major impact on our economy and trading relationships, now and in the future,” says the group’s president, Wyoming cattleman Philip Ellis. “Cattlemen and women support consumers in the information they seek, we are open and transparent, and we can do that without costly and trade distorting rules.”
Beef and pork are already eligible for a USA label under USDA’s voluntary process verification program, according to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), chairman of the Agriculture Committee.
The mandatory labeling law requires livestock producers to keep track of where animals were born and the locations where they were raised and slaughtered. The practical effect is that animals are segregated prior to slaughter, which foreign producers claim was being done at their expense.
BEEF INDUSTRY STATISTICS (Source: NCBA)
- Cattle inventory (as of Jan 1, 2015): 89.9 million, up 1 percent from Jan. 2014
- Economic impact: $44 billion in farm gate receipts (USDA NASS)
- Number of farms and ranches specializing in beef cattle: 619,172 (2012)
- Number of cattle and calf operations: 915,000 (2012):
- 29.7 million beef cows
- 9.3 million milk cows
- 5.8 million beef replacement heifers, up 4 percent from Jan. 2014
- 33.9 million head calf crop (2013)
- Average cow herd size: 40 head
- Value of U.S. beef exports: $5.711 billion (2013), up from $3.839 billion in 2010
- Top export markets: Japan, Canada, Mexico and South Korea
- Top five states for all cattle and calves (2015):
- Texas, 11.8 million
- Nebraska, 6.30 million
- Kansas, 6 million
- California, 5.2 million
- Oklahoma, 4.6 million
- Top five states for cattle in feedlots with capacity of more than 1,000 head (March 2015):
- Nebraska, 2.49 million
- Texas, 2.45 million
- Kansas, 2.1 million
- Colorado, .870 million
- Iowa, .660 million
- Average producer age: 58.3 (USDA 2012 Ag Census)
- U.S. beef production (commercial carcass weight) was 25.8 billion pounds.
- The total U.S. beef consumed was 25.5 billion pounds.
- Average annual U.S. retail Choice beef price in 2013 was $5.29/lb.
- U.S. commercial slaughter total was 31.9 million head.
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