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Round Two Is Looking Ugly PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Thursday, 16 August 2007
AFF Sentinel Vol.4#28

The Rights of Americans at Risk

The bell has rung on Round One of the 2007 Farm Bill marathon fight. On the scorecard, the free-market approach to agriculture is bruised but ahead on points. A much tougher Round Two in the U.S. Senate will commence after the August congressional break.

The problem is that in this fight, fresh, new opponents can come into the ring in each round and beat up on free-market beef proponents. Round Two will feature a long- time opponent of agricultural free markets, Sen. Thomas Harkin (D-Iowa, Senate Ag Committee chairman). Both Harkin's past performance and current intelligence from the Hill presage a major assault on the rights of folks in the beef production chain.

This means that communications to their senators from cattlemen who believe in free- market approaches could be crucial to the outcome.

How tough will Round Two be? One observer reminded us that the free marketers lost the debates on competition and restricting cattle ownership in the Senate in the 2002 Farm Bill. The free marketers just got lucky in conference. With Democrats in control now - favoring more government control and interference in business - both the Ag Committee and the full Senate will be even more unfriendly places for people who believe in free markets and cooperation. Opponents favor mandatory structural inefficiency - in the markets and in production management - instead of the ability to cooperate, contract, manage supply and plan marketing to deliver the best quality product to the consumer.

Back in January, when R-CALF was riding taller in the saddle, they were confident that cherished goals were reachable. They had little to worry about regarding the introduction of Senate legislation. They noted Harkin had already introduced bills addressing their wants in recent years. They were looking at a downhill run. John Ferrell, a key Harkin ag policy aide, spoke at their convention. He proclaimed one of the problems with P&S prosecution rates was that the regulations made it "too hard to prove, standards were too high" and needed watering down. As for the non-implementation of mCOOL, "something fishy is going on here," he said, blaming USDA for writing a really bad rule.

So it is very possible that the Senate version of the Farm Bill could contain a ban or neutering restrictions on contracts and marketing agreements, the stripping of cattle ownership rights from some companies and forced government interference in cattle markets through mandatory cash cattle purchase requirements. On top of that, the bill could simultaneously create another layer of litigating government attorneys (special counsel) while doing away with the requirement to prove harm in anti-trust lawsuits (watering down).

In other words, kiss off your marketing agreements, alliances, natural lines and branded-beef programs. Say goodbye to the upward trend in beef quality and new convenience products that have fed the terrific increase in beef demand. If you're a retailer or a foodservice chain, say hello to a mad scramble for the supply of quality product you need when you need it.

Because Congress, in its infinite wisdom, will have made beef supply management a nightmare - with the best tools outlawed. And, chicken and pork, with comparatively little quality variation and much shorter production cycles, will gain edge.

And the populists, like R-CALF and National Farmer's Union, and senators like Harkin, Dorgan, Baucus, Enzi and Feingold will have made life much more difficult for cattlemen and the rest of the beef production chain. They will have robbed consumers of the kind of quality and new product curve they have enjoyed since the rise of marketing agreements, value-based cattle pricing and branded beef.

Who are these guys? What right do they have to take away cattlemen's right to sell cattle when they want, to whom they want, based on carcass value instead of cash over the animal's back? Whose cattle are they, anyway? Whose land and capital and labor and risk are in play? Someone needs to tell these guys that government central planning doesn't work - and takes away the rights of cattlemen and packers and retailers.

You could help explain it to them.

Next time: A Template for Litigators in Paradise - S. 622.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 10 October 2007 )
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