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 explained.

“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 and Mexico.

“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,” Woodall said.

“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 immigration reform.”