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Liberal Activist Groups (LAG) Target Beef Industry PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Thursday, 11 November 2004

Most American farmers and ranchers are proud of what they produce.  They feel their agricultural production and marketing system is the best in the world, but can always use updating and improving.

Those who feel that way had better pay attention to shifting undercurrents and policy efforts.  Unlikely coalitions are plotting a revolution, an "extreme makeover" of the American agricultural system to satisfy totally different goals than those of historic mainstream farmers and ranchers. 

This extreme makeover would put new government restrictions on who would be allowed to own cattle in the U.S., gut the USDA of agricultural officials, roll back scientific advances in meat inspection, break up the modern processing and retail grocery system and overhaul international trade to hamper the export of high quality U.S. products to global markets.  Legal attacks against the beef industry's self-help research and promotion program and attempts to undermine consumer confidence in beef are other examples of divisive actions in the industry.  And surprisingly, these actions have featured unprecedented cooperation between several smaller agricultural groups and traditional farm adversary activist groups, forming a loose coalition of liberal activist groups (LAG).

Fringe farm groups have teamed up with Nader-founded consumer activist groups and some faith-based  factions.  They are attempting to revive the theory of a populist, more socially correct system of agriculture as opposed to the free enterprise, capitalist system the U.S. has used to build our current world agricultural superiority. 
A conference was organized this summer in Omaha by the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), a Nader-founded group that opposes most current forms of cooperation and contracting between producer, processor and retail segments in agriculture.  OCM officers, representatives from other Nader consumer groups like Public Citizen, faith-based social change groups and members of R-CALF, a anti-mainstream cattlemen's group, discussed a report attacking the operating philosophy and personnel at USDA.

While OCM does not make any mention of Nader on its Web site or in its materials, Nader claimed credit for helping start the group in his 2002 book Crashing the Party.  As for R-CALF, once simply a fringe, alternative group within agricultural industry circles, it now works with activist consumer, faith-based and anti-trade groups to battle establishment agricultural organizations and government agencies.  R-CALF shares contracts and some directors with an OCM market project.  They have also sued USDA over trade with Canada.

The report presented at the OCM conference attacked the presence of people with industry experience at USDA.  The groups want to shift control of USDA from people with agricultural industry background to those with environmental, labor union, consumer activist and religious organization background.

The report was coordinated by the Center of Concern, a Catholic "global justice" group and written by the Corporate Research Project, a non-profit group that aids activists and unions who wish to force their version of "social responsibility" on companies.
While Nader himself may only capture a tiny percentage of the popular vote when he runs for president, his groups and activist movements have pioneered methods of publicizing perceived problems and forcing outsiders' views on industries and companies.  They have used lawsuits, activist legislation and regulation and emotional pressure tactics to force the will of their outside, minority opinion on industries they feel are not in tune with their goals.   America's farmers and ranchers have seen what upheavals such Nader-inspired movements have resulted in with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Endangered Species Act, recent lawsuits restricting Canadian beef trade and, historically, the whole notion that animal products should be reduced or eliminated from the American diet at the expense of good, balanced nutrition and health.

Other outside activist groups have already used lawsuits in an attempt to kill a cattlemen's self-help, self-funded research, education and promotion effort to advance the cattle industry in the U.S. and abroad.  The Livestock Marketing Association, a group of some auction markets opposed to the cattlemen's self-help research and promotion checkoff program, has spearheaded that effort, joined by activist groups like Public Citizen.

These actions are attempts to turn back the clock, to destroy the current economic system, eliminate innovation and damage the interests of consumers.  These fringe agricultural groups have not been able to persuade the majority in agriculture that their solutions are correct.  So they are resorting to legal, public relations and legislative means to force their will on the majority.  Allying with groups outside agriculture who favor centrally-planned, government-limited industries directed by bureaucrats appointed from environmental, radical activist or socialist organizations is not in tune with traditional American agriculture.

The bottom line is that these fringe agricultural groups are not happy with the present free enterprise, capitalist system.  They have a list of organizations and traditional American values they blame.  They do not like the changes the industry has made to adapt to the modern, real world.  And they are filing lawsuits to attempt to force the clock back.  They are allying with traditional adversaries of free enterprise and agricultural producers to 'reform' our present system by whatever means necessary, regardless of damage to agriculture or consumers in the process.  They want to upset the applecart and rearrange things into a government-regulated food chain, where all sectors are restricted into certain segments like a union-organized shop, and activists and bureaucrats rather than consumers determine what products are produced and distributed.

The silent majority?at least in the beef industry?is no longer willing to remain silent, however.  A new group?the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation?has been formed to provide a voice for the majority who prefer improving the system rather than destroying it.  The AFF will counter the contrary coalition of fringe agricultural groups, activist "consumer" groups and opponents of the free market who have evidently concluded that the present system must go.

The supporters of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation are free enterprise believers, who envision the world economy as a pyramid, with the consumer at the top of the pyramid.  Groups who are trying to wreck our agricultural system operate under the theory that they and their wants should be on the top of the pyramid.  The AFF does not accept that theory.

We believe that the free market system, which allows consumers the opportunity to choose between options and express their preferences through their purchases in a free marketplace, is the best system for consumers and for producers.

The AFF has been formed to point out the dangers in a wholesale wrecking of the American agriculture system, indeed the entire food chain, just to protect the franchises of certain backward-looking groups and individuals.  Neither does AFF think that turning the system over to activist groups who are anti-capitalist and favor big government, centrally-planned socialist economies is an improvement on our present system.  We also favor the least amount of government involvement necessary for the smooth workings of the system and protection of the consumer.

The fork in the road we are facing now is not one we can go back and re-take later.  Going from a free market system to a system that is centrally controlled by government restrictions, collectivist rather than premium-based and protectionist on world trade will gut American animal agriculture of the talent, initiative and incentive that has made it the envy of the world. 
The Agribusiness Freedom Foundation promotes free market principles throughout the agricultural food chain. The AFF believes it is possible to value the traditions and heritage of the past but still embrace the future and the changes it brings.  The AFF is a communications and educational initiative striving to preserve the freedom of the agricultural food chain to operate and innovate in order to continue the success of American agriculture.

The AFF - freedom watchdog for American agriculture.

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