|April 23, 2003
When God wrote His law, the Commandments, did He ask Pharaoh to write the rules?
Goodland, Kansas – Chandler Keys, NCBA’s vice president of Government Affairs, was in Goodland, Kansas last night at a Kansas Livestock Association meeting discussing a variety of issues including country of origin labeling (COOL). Keys said, “It doesn’t matter what we think about COOL, USDA is going to write the rules and USDA is going to ask market participants what they want.” He continued, “It is a retail labeling law. The retailer will tell the packer, and the packer will tell the feeder, and on down the line to the cow-calf producer, what they want in the way of an audit trail.” Keys criticized COOL supporters for being “rash” and too hasty (and of course for not asking NCBA), resulting in what he said was a poorly written piece of legislation.
NCBA is straddling razor wire trying to represent both cattlemen and their allied industry, which includes the packers and retailers. They know COOL, a consumer-right-to-know law, is one of the most popular laws ever passed by Congress. If NCBA can’t defeat the legislation that threatens the unfair profits of their packer and retailer bosses, they must try to reverse the intent of the law through rule making, or make the law so onerous that those who wanted it would cry for its repeal.
Keys acknowledged that all foreign beef and cattle that cross the U.S. borders are clearly labeled, marked, and segregated under current law. He struggled a bit when the suggestion was made that we not worry about U.S. cattle – just track the foreign cattle and beef on through to retail, similar to the “domestic only” system required currently for government purchases – and everything else is U.S. by default?
If packers and retailers are going to write the rules, producers and consumers who passed the legislation to label meat, fruits, vegetables, and peanuts will see a far different result than the legislation intended. Packers and retailers intend to teach producers a lesson they won’t soon forget with a reversal of COOL’s legislative intent. They know a win on COOL will empower producers and consumers with hope for even more progress in restoring fairness in the marketplace.
Packers and retailers are pushing third-party verification and farm of origin labeling, as opposed to country of origin labeling, with a complete audit trail. Does that mean beef imported from Argentina will be traced back to their farms, the cow and bull from which it was raised, and will an honest “third party”, maybe someone like George Soros (Engler/Cactus/Soros of Argentina), verify that the producer isn’t lying?
Mandatory Price Reporting (MPR) is a recent example of a law’s intent being reversed in rulemaking. Keys, who was present with the packers and USDA during MPR’s rulemaking, and who many believe facilitated MPR’s demise said, “Politics is about compromise. You have to give and take. You should be thankful for what you have.”
Since Chandler Keys came on the NCBA scene eighteen years ago, cattlemen have given up too much with the “go along to get along” philosophy. Loss of competitive markets have cost cattlemen and their communities between $300 to $400 per head of their share of the consumer beef dollar – Cash that is now in the pockets of the packers and retailers. Consumers have never paid more for beef and producers have never received less of what the consumer spends.
In trying to promote the NCBA’s prestige and high position of power in Washington D.C. politics, through its network of “connections” in the various USDA government agencies, Keys exposed a serious problem for producers: USDA is NCBA, USDA is the packers and retailers, USDA has become subservient to the industry it is charged with regulating. Through the revolving door of industry to USDA and back again, plus the direct money and political muscle of big meat packers, processors, and retailers, USDA is positioned to kill, through their rulemaking, new legislation that threatens the profits of their packer retailer bosses.
Cattlemen, in an effort to be diplomatic, respectful, and in the interest of preserving a business relationship with the packer they must sell their livestock to, have for the most part avoided direct confrontation. They haven’t related to Congress the fact that the packers and retailers believe they are above the law, like gangsters, thugs, and thieves they pillage the countryside with impunity. Perhaps Congress could do a better job of protecting our economic system if this fact were made more clear. Packers, processors, and retailers are to today’s farmers and ranchers what Pharaoh was to the slaves in his mud pits.
Packers and retailers should not write the rules for the laws that regulate them, free people should.
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