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Congress' Modus Operandi: Wrong Solutions, Wrong Problems PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
AFF Sentinel Vol.5#16

Congress' Modus Operandi: Wrong Solutions, Wrong Problems

Congress has a hard time with problems and solutions. Mandatory COOL is a great example -- like using a blunderbuss to hunt mosquitos and then aiming back over your shoulder.

We prefer import regulations based on valid scientific reasons and that's what trade liberalization is all about. Geographic origin doesn't determine quality or safety. Just because a lens comes from Germany or a watch from Switzerland doesn't guarantee it's perfect, any more than grapes from one country or toys from China are automatically not up to snuff. Country of origin is a marketing angle, like French wine, Canadian maple syrup or Roquefort cheese. Government shouldn't place a marketing factor as a component in import regulations. Science holds that, industry holds that and international trade agreements forged by WTO and NAFTA members hold that.


But Congress has set mCOOL wheels in motion and they are royally botching implementation, foisting an unfunded, undefined mandate on the meat industry. American producers, feeders, processors and retailers are left in limbo not knowing what supplies will be available from where or how they can be labeled and marketed. Ironically, individual animal identification, primarily an animal health tool, could secondarily be used privately for marketing purposes, but is struggling under voluntary implementation under opposition from the very people pushing mCOOL. Congress has proved incapable of sorting these issues.

Ethanol is another example of the wrong solution for the wrong problem - mandated by Congress. Congress confused our worldwide short-term need for more fuel with the long-term need for alternative energy sources. Ethanol mandates, subsidies for ethanol and tariffs on imported ethanol have sent shock waves all through our crop, food and fuel production system. Meanwhile, oil in all four directions of the compass on or around our land mass is ignored.

The Farm Bill is supposed to be about commodities and conservation. With five years to get ready, Congress is still dithering as farmers plant and livestock is born. Not content with disastrous government agricultural experiments like ethanol and pending mCOOL, Congress is trying to restructure the livestock production chain, with cattle ownership restrictions and contracting and marketing agreement bans. They also want to heap more lawyers and investigators on beleagured livestock producers and packers.

Meanwhile, some ameliorating fixes in mCOOL implementation are languishing in a Farm Bill on life support. American producers are asking whether some of their animals will be marketable after Sept. 30 and neither American hog finishers nor Canadian farrowing operations know what to do. Canadians are contemplating euthanizing baby pigs if their normal American finishing partners can't take the pigs under uncertain marketing restrictions.

Then, House leadership goes out of its way to block new markets for farm products and upset all our trade partners, just days before a much anticipated meeting between South Korea's President Lee and President Bush.
Hinting at Congress' dithering, President Bush, in wry comments televised from a Cabinet meeting Monday, noted that while "beach monitoring and landscape conservation are important issues," they don't rate priority over the Columbia Free Trade Agreement or extending the tax cuts. The latter are being ignored. Yet the Hallmark case - a relatively rare case of negligence - draws Congress' attention like a puppy for adoption on a TV talk show.

Any wonder why that old joke, "We're from the federal government and we're here to help," gets no laughs in cow country?

This week is supposedly it for the 2007 Farm Bill. The extended deadline is Friday and the President has said he will sign no more short-term extensions. The food production chain needs answers. Congress has been meeting a lot but settling little. The total spending and revenue sources have been major sticking points. Livestock ownership and contracting issues have gotten some attention but no reported resolution.

Meanwhile, the House, which finished its version last July, just finalized its conferee list last week. And while agriculture once labored in relative obscurity, the conferee list included 22 members from other committees wishing to "help." The would-be Democratic helpers included John Conyers (Judiciary Committee), Henry Waxman (Government Reform), John Dingell (Energy) and James Oberstar (Transportation) - the spark behind recent airline inspection fiascoes, as well as reps from the Education and Labor, Science and Technology and Small Business committees.

Meanwhile, to add to the political football gamesmanship, Senate Ag committee chairman Senator Tom Harkin has let it be known he has a "baseline" Farm Bill in his back pocket just in case.

Wrong solutions, wrong problems.

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Last Updated ( Monday, 05 May 2008 )
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