Cattlemen talk politics

From left, Chuck Kiker, Curtis Martin, Jennifer Houston and Colin Woodall discussed the introduction of lab-grown meat and changes to the Beef Checkoff Program as part of a panel presentation at the Dec. 1 Oregon Cattlemen's Association convention in Bend, Ore.

BEND, Ore. — The chief lobbyist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association expects two years of gridlock on Capitol Hill following the 2018 congressional mid-term elections in November.

Colin Woodall, senior vice president of government affairs for the NCBA, gave his analysis of the mid-terms on Dec. 1 at the Oregon Cattlemen's Association annual convention and trade show in Bend, Ore., where about 400 ranchers from across the state gathered for three days of meetings and presentations.

Woodall later joined a panel of speakers to discuss two major issues for the U.S. cattle industry — first, how the feds plan to regulate the introduction of so-called "fake meat" into the marketplace, and second, how to improve the Beef Checkoff Program, which collects $1 per head of cattle to pay for product development, research and promotion.

In terms of support from Washington, D.C., Woodall said the Senate will likely be the industry's best friend after Republicans widened their majority to 53 seats, while Democrats flipped 42 seats to gain control of the House.

"Republicans tend to see our way of life a bit better than Democrats do," Woodall said. "For the next two years, the Senate will play spoiler to the House."

Congress divided

Woodall was encouraged by GOP victories in North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana and Florida. He said Sen.-elect Kevin Cramer, who unseated incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, is a "great friend of agriculture," and specifically the cattle business.

In Missouri, Republican Josh Hawley ousted incumbent Claire McCaskill, who Woodall said never met once with the state cattlemen's association. Republican businessman Mike Braun also won election over incumbent Joe Donnelly in Indiana, and Rick Scott, the current Republican governor of Florida, ousted incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

"Agriculture made the difference on those three seats," Woodall said.

But it wasn't all good news, according to Woodall. Republicans lost Senate races in Nevada and Arizona and Democrats took over control of the House, which Woodall anticipates will lead to numerous oversight hearings in key legislative committees as opponents of President Donald Trump attempt to tie up the agenda.

Woodall pointed to figures such as Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who chairs the House Financial Services Committee and vehemently opposes Trump, and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.

"If (Grijalva) was given 30 seconds to make unilateral decisions for this country, the one and only thing he would do is kick all of you off your permits," Woodall said. "He hates that we graze on federal land."

Woodall also criticized Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, who recently referred to a bill to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List in the lower 48 states as "a talking point for a few idiots."

"That shows you what we're up against," Woodall said.

Woodall said the NCBA does have Democratic supporters, such as Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who will chair the House Agriculture Committee, and Richard Neal of Massachusetts, who as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee will play a pivotal role in passing new trade foreign trade agreements.

"We're going to capitalize on that," Woodall said.

'Fake' meat, checkoff

Woodall pivoted from politics to lab-grown meat and the Beef Checkoff Program as part of a panel discussion with Jennifer Houston of the NCBA, as well as Curtis Martin and Chuck Kiker of the U.S. Cattlemen's Association.

The group was more or less in agreement on "fake meat." Martin, a rancher in North Powder, Ore., and past president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, said they are pleased the USDA will share regulatory authority with the Food and Drug Administration, though concerns over labeling continue to linger.

Martin said the product should not be allowed to call itself "meat," and compared it to how makers of soy, almond and rice "milk" have challenged the dairy industry.

"That's what we're fighting for, folks," Martin said. "We think this product should have the furthest away definition in labeling from meat and beef."

Opinions differed more on what changes are needed to the beef checkoff, which is collected by the Cattlemen's Beef Board and USDA. Martin said the U.S. Cattlemen's Association is "totally a proponent" of the checkoff dollar, but believes the money has become misguided and misdirected. He argued funding should be used to promote Country of Origin Labeling, which was repealed in 2015.

"We're frustrated about how those dollars are being spent to actively promote outside product that is nowhere near the quality of what we have in the U.S.," Martin said.

Kiker, a founding member of U.S. Cattlemen's Association, also called for more transparency in the program. He stopped short of saying there was anything illegal going on, but indicated there is a bias toward the NCBA.

Houston defended the organization, saying they are dedicated to promoting beef and representing the entire industry fairly.

"I feel yes, you do have a voice," Houston said.

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