WHITTINGTON, Ill. — Cattlemen need to work together to tell
their story to lawmakers and the general public.
“There is no better steward of the air, land, water and the
welfare of animals than us sitting in this room,” said Colin Woodall, vice
president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“Our clout in Washington is built by our members.”
He emphasized that the NCBA staff works every day in
Washington for cattlemen across the country.
“If you’re not there, you’re easily forgotten,” Woodall said
during a presentation at the Illinois Beef Association’s Summer Conference.
The NCBA spokesman talked about a variety of issues
impacting cattlemen, including the ongoing farm bill debate.
“We were surprised,” he said. “That was the first time a
farm bill has ever failed to pass the House of Representatives.”
This indicates that things are changing.
“It means folks weren’t too worried about farmers and
ranchers — they were worried about people getting food stamps,” Woodall said.
“This bill was going to be about 82 percent food stamps, but
that wasn’t good enough for those who want those programs for their
constituents. There were a series of amendments on the floor, and the last
amendment that went to a final vote tied food stamps to work requirements and
that passed. That was the death of the legislation.”
Woodall identified three options for the farm bill.
“The first option is to try to dust off the farm bill, bring
it back to the floor and try to find a compromise,” he said. “We have not seen a
major piece of legislation fail, be dusted off and considered within two months
of time in the history of Congress.”
While this option is not impossible, Woodall said, it would
be quite difficult.
The second option, he added, is to extend the 2008 farm bill
for another six months, which would take it to February 2014.
“That timeframe is critical because by the end of February,
the focus in Washington, D.C., shifts toward midterm elections in November,” he
“The third option is allow everything to expire and go back
to the Permanent Law of 1949, and nobody knows what that means,” Woodall said.
“That would completely upset ag policy in this country, and all the uncertainty
we currently have would be doubled and tripled if that were to happen.”
At this point in time, Woodall expects an extension of the
2008 farm bill.
“That’s the easy one, and most people under the 2008
programs are OK with that, except dairy producers,” he said.
Woodall identified two issues that NCBA was hoping to fix
with the new farm bill, including the country of origin labeling law.
“The proponents of COOL say if packages include product of
the U.S., consumers will want to pay a premium for it,” he said. “But the
reality has been consumers care about price — what the product looks like and
COOL is not on their mind.”
COOL is only about marketing and has nothing to do with food
safety, according to Woodall.
“We support labeling as a marketing tool that allows us to
showcase our great product and build demand,” he said. “But we don’t support the
government being in the role of COOL.”
In addition, COOL has impacted U.S. beef trade with Canada
“In 2012, we sent almost $2 billion worth of U.S. beef into
those countries,” Woodall said. “When we implemented COOL, Canada and Mexico
filed a World Trade Organization case against us saying our COOL program
violated trade agreements.”
The WTO decided that the COOL program violated the trade
agreements and told the U.S. to fix its law.
“The U.S. tried to fix it, and now they want to know where
the animal was born, raised and slaughtered or harvested,” Woodall said. “The
WTO is looking to see if they will approve that as a fix, but we don’t think it
will be a fix.”
Therefore, Woodall expects Canada and Mexico will retaliate
against the U.S. by the end of the year.
“They can put 100 percent surtax on all our exports of U.S.
beef to those countries and other products,” he said.
The second issue that NCBA targeted in the new farm bill is
the Grain, Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule.
“GIPSA is part of the USDA, and its job is to implement the
Packers and Stockyards Act,” Woodall said.
“Now if you think a packer or marketing agent is doing
something to price fix, you have to show evidence they are having an impact on
the marketplace. This act was passed in the ’20s, and it is the hallmark of
antitrust in our industry.”
The GIPSA rule would change the criteria.
“All you have to do is claim that what is happening is
unfair, and you have a case — you don’t need any other proof,” Woodall said. “To
base lawsuits off what someone thinks is unfair will destroy marketing programs
and take us back to commodity cattle where you are paid the same price
regardless of the quality.”
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate currently
are working on immigration reform proposals, which have a big impact on all in
the agricultural industry.
“We’ve got to secure the border with Mexico — this is a huge
problem,” Woodall said. “The majority of the land along the border of Mexico is
owned by farmers and ranchers, and they are on the front lines of the drug
traffic coming across the border.”
Ranchers experience a variety of problems, including cut
fences, destroyed water supplies and stolen vehicles and other items.
“One of our members was killed on his own ranch,” Woodall
said. “And one member in Texas bought a mobile home and stocked it with food,
hoping they’d go there and leave his house alone.”
An amendment passed in the Senate proposal includes the
addition of 20,000 border patrol agents.
“We’re happy about the attention to border security,”
“We also have to make sure we have access to a legal
workforce because packing plants, feedyards and a lot of people depend on
immigrant labor. We are working for a guest worker program that allows them to
come for an extended period of time. We think by the end of the year we’ll have