R-CALF USA, a staunch supporter of mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef, contends a USDA proposed rule regarding reapportionment of Cattlemen’s Beef Board membership reveals the disparity in importers’ political control.
The proposal would increase board membership — which includes cattle producers, dairy farmers and cattle and beef importers — from 99 to 101, based on cattle inventories in states and regions. It does not change the seven seats held by importers.
To make its calculations on control of domestic cattle inventories, USDA counts imported live cattle and converts imported beef to a live cattle equivalent.
Those calculations show importers control about 6.9 million head of the 95 million U.S. total.
But on a state-by-state basis, they control more cattle inventory than any state in the Union except Texas, Bill Bullard, R-CALF CEO, told Capital Press.
That gives importers a supra-competitive position in lobbying each state’s congressional members, he said.
Having dominant control over cattle inventories in all but one state affords them extraordinary influence in both Congress and the administration, he said.
“If you start with the premise there’s power in numbers … this makes sense,” he said.
On a state-by-state basis, those 6.9 million head carry a greater weight. Importer inventories now overpower every state but Texas, he said.
Idaho, for example, has an inventory of about 2.5 million head. Its producers can go to their senators saying they want mandatory COOL to showcase and distinguish their product. But importers can come in and say “yeah but we have 6.9 million, you should follow what we want,” he said.
Importers and meatpackers, who are among those that control that 6.9 million head of cattle, are strong lobbyists with overwhelming influence in Washington, D.C. They are there on a day-to-day basis, he said.
They also represent significant control over the beef board, he said.
“That’s why U.S. cattle producers can’t use the beef checkoff to promote their U.S. beef products,” he said.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, however, says Bullard is completely off the mark.
NCBA’s view on R-CALF’s alleged importer influence “is just garbage, period,” Colin Woodall, CEO of NCBA, said.
“We’re not sure what point he’s (Bullard) trying to make on undue influence by importers,” he said.
They only have 6.9% of the vote on the Beef Board, and that’s not going to ramrod the show, he said.
“It completely debunks the garbage he’s saying,” he said.
And he doesn’t know where Bullard is getting undue influence in Congress. From first-hand experience, importers are not engaged in Washington, D.C., he said.
“Bill Bullard is making assumption based on he lives in Montana,” he said.
NCBA is engaged — and members of Congress are interested in what their constituents, cattle producers, have to say, he said.
NCBA supports voluntary marketing programs to effectively differentiate product. But mandatory COOL was in place in the U.S. for more than six years, and an economic analysis showed there was no value in it, he said.
In addition, the World Trade Organization gave Canada and Mexico the right to retaliate against the U.S., he said.