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Battle Week Shaping Up PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
AFF Sentinel Vol.5#05

Clashing and dealing, Washington forces are expected to rumble this week, with beef industry and consumer interests hanging in the balance.

With few working days left before the March 15 target date for getting a Farm Bill through Conference Committee, urgency is on the loose on Capitol Hill. The Senate finally named their conferees and the House is expected to shortly. Sources said other committees besides Agriculture are requesting representation among House conferees, believing the Farm Bill affects their jurisdiction.

We're told House Ag Committee Chairman Peterson and his staff are concerned they might not get any Farm Bill this session unless Peterson can devise a way to tame an unruly list of issues and personalities. Not only are House and Senate versions of the bill significantly different, President Bush has flatly warned he would veto the bill with current provisions and tax increases. The Administration also opposes livestock ownership restriction and Special Counsel provisions.

Two provisions in the current version of vital interest to the beef industry have very different profiles in probability, we're told. The creation of an office of Special Counsel - in effect a special prosecutor with wide-ranging powers and the charge of attacking the processing and feeding sectors of the beef industry - will be tough to get removed from the bill. It is a pet project of influential senators who want to recreate the meat industry of decades past. They want to handicap the livestock industry with business size and structure limitations no other American businesses face.

But trying to get Congress - a body overloaded with lawyers - to remove a provision creating more work for lawyers, is tough. That existing legal offices within the Department of Justice and USDA-GIPSA already do this work fails to impress the Senate. Besides this duplication, the bill also provides for outsourcing legal work to non-government lawyers in order to throw even more attorneys, subpoenas and lawsuits at processors and their customers - feedyards. If feeders think they wouldn't be affected by these investigations, they should consider a small business maxim: businessmen can't afford to be sued and/or subpoenaed at all, let alone lose a suit. While the odds of removing this section are not good, the other section could get axed.

That section is one that would ban Americans - be they cattlemen or packers - from simultaneously owning cattle and more than one packing plant. Even more far reaching for the livestock industry, the provision would eliminate the beef alliances, branded meat programs, natural and organic meat programs and many integrated beef and pork companies in America. All of the agreements livestock producers have utilized to reduce risk, raise capital and produce a more consistent, predictable and high quality product efficiently would be declared illegal by Congressional fiat. The supply management and quality control programs businesses and manufacturers worldwide use to guarantee the best product in the best form in the right place at the right time would be illegal for the meat industry.

If we didn't know the driving forces behind this misguided legislation, it would be logical to assume singling out the meat industry for such horrendous business millstones was a ploy of vegetarian/animal welfare groups intent on handicapping the meat industry. Alas, it is instead the brainchild of forces who think that, while consumers dictating through the free market system can decide what kind of other products they prefer at what price nearly regardless of company size, meat consumers should not be allowed that right. They feel meat consumers need government agencies dictating what type and size of processing, producing and, eventually, retail and foodservice companies they should be allowed to patronize.

So, if we have government agencies deciding what size and structure of meat industry companies were acceptable - aided by consumer and small- only farm activists - what happens if these companies could not economically survive? Would the government then take over meat production and processing and retailing so affordable meat would be available? That is, of course, the definition of socialism, in which government owns and manages the means of production. It worked so well for the Soviets, we guess Congress wants to head us down that path for meat production. They're already dictating how many gallons of ethanol must be produced and ignoring the havoc such a mandate has wreaked upon the meat industry. Could a meat production mandate - with attendant company size and structure dictates - be next?

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Last Updated ( Monday, 18 February 2008 )
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