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Liberals First?Cowboys Second?Closet Vegetarians? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Wednesday, 26 January 2005

People keep asking me, "How can these people do these things to their own industry - the beef industry?  How can they say these things, risk our consumer confidence?"

The statements of an animal rights advocate - Laurence Tribe - as an attorney for a livestock service group and an ag coalition just added to the incredible air around the industry these days.

Let me try to provide some perspective.

Imagine history had been written differently than we remember it. Let's imagine for a moment, if you will, that it is 1980. Imagine some organization, let's say the ANCA, the American National Cattlemen, predecessor to NCA and NCBA, has just issued its public "thank you" letter for the decade of the ?70s.  Remember, you're imagining this:

  • The letter thanks Congress for the enlightened progress provided by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and for the Environmental Protection Agency of 1970. 
  • It thanks Sen. George McGovern for his "Dietary Goals" report attacking animal products in the diet from the Senate Select Committee on Health and Human Nutrition. 
  • It thanks President Carter for Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Carol Tucker Foreman and her vigorous promotion of the Dietary Goals report, sending animal products into a 25-year downward spiral. 
  • It endorses Carter for re-election in 1980, expressing support for more big government and more interference into the cattle business from outside activist groups.
  • Now spin forward to 2004.
    NCBA announces it has formed a coalition with Carol Tucker Foreman's Consumer Federation of America, Consumer's Union and Public Citizen to attack USDA's handling of the BSE incident. They all agree that consumer confidence in the American beef supply is misplaced. 
  • It thanks certain members for helping it see the error of its ways and announces it has joined the lawsuit against the checkoff. 
  • NCBA also noted that it had joined Public Citizen, PETA and Farm Aid in placing links to "The Meatrix" video attacking "factory farms" on its Web site. 
    It also says it has retained an animal "rights" attorney to represent it regarding livestock issues.

Do you find it hard to even imagine such a nightmare of a track record for a cattlemen's group? Can you imagine how many members NCBA would have if it had taken the above positions over the last 30 years?

Yet the Liberal Activist Groups (LAG) so vigorously attacking the American agriculture system have endorsed these philosophies or actually done the above actions - and amazingly their members are not in revolt, at least not that we know of yet:

  • R-CALF held a joint news conference in 2004 with long-time meat industry adversaries Public Citizen, Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Consumer's Union, casting doubt on the safety of the U.S. beef supply.
  • R-CALF has joined hands with Public Citizen, the group that has declared mainstream American beef producers as helping "perpetuate food safety problems," calls feedyards "unsanitary," contends cattle are fed "large quantities of hormones and antibiotics" and favors fewer and smaller portions of beef in the American diet. So anxious to scare consumers off beef, they erroneously reported a second case of BSE in the U.S. in 2004.
  • R-CALF has stood on stage with the mother of the Dietary Goals program push, Carol Tucker Foreman, and her organization that has fought cattlemen and promoted decreased meat consumption for over 25 years. CFA favors less red meat in school lunches, has led protests in front of USDA on meat safety and has been one of the top sources of negative information on the beef industry during the BSE crisis. She was easily the most reviled target of cattlemen's rage in the late ?70s and early ?80s when she was with USDA.
  • R-CALF and OCM have endorsed big government regulation for the beef industry. OCM wants the beef industry to have the type of extremely complex net of rules and regulations the securities market has. They want the Congress and government bureaucracy to decide who can own cattle and how big an operation they can run. R-CALF members endorsed Ralph Nader and John Kerry, who included cattle ownership restrictions in their campaign policies.
  • R-CALF's other partner in the joint news conference claiming bone-in beef was unsafe was Consumer's Union (CU), who recommended American consumers eat only grass-fed, organic beef as a defense against BSE when Canada first discovered BSE. Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop singled out CU's cancer scare claims as "baseless, manipulative and completely irresponsible...part of a long-running campaign to scare consumers about a perfectly safe is necessary to condemn these attacks ... for what they are: baseless, manipulative and completely irresponsible."
  • Of course, LMA and WORC's hiring of an attorney with animal "rights" background and opposition to animal ownership has had coffee shops buzzing all over the country. Tribe suggested his cattle producer clients might be vegetarians under other circumstances because they were uncomfortable with the notion of animals being turned into beef.
  • And, yes, not only Public Citizen and PETA have links to "The Meatrix," that horrible, nightmare animated video spinning lies and distortions about the beef industry, but so also does Farm Aid and at least one R-CALF member's beef Web site.

Yet R-CALF and OCM and LMA still have members, still conduct operations. Many cattlemen cannot understand how cattlemen's groups and so-called allied industry groups can join with traditional enemies; can attack the market system with intent to destroy, rather than improve; can do things and say things that would have been unthinkable years ago. These are actions that would have branded any cattleman a traitor to his industry years ago. So how can they do this now?

I think the answer lies in the shift of political and economic philosophies that has occurred in the United States over the last quarter century. Many cattlemen are not comfortable discussing partisan politics. But in today's world, such niceties are becoming difficult to observe.

It used to be there were a lot more cattlemen who were Democrats, when that meant just being not a Republican. The term "liberal" was not used much in those days, so you could be a Democrat and still believe in free enterprise, in limited government, in businessmen being good guys. Even as late as 1960, that was still true.

But the relative philosophical positions have shifted. JFK would not recognize the Democratic party of today - at least not the most leftist segment that seems most vocal. The drastic shift of the Democratic party to the left has changed the political, social, economic and business landscape. To at least the far left - and the candidates who cater to them -- businessmen are the bad guys, more government is the answer to almost every problem, politically correct, socialist approaches are the answer to society's problems and individuals are not held responsible - some capitalist conservative is to blame for everything bad.

So like many Americans, more cattlemen confronted with the either/or choice in the voting booth find themselves supporting Republicans these days, regardless of what their long-term political heritage might be. They are like many other businessmen with exposure to real world economics, a desire to work and prosper in an industry and the desire for the freedom to innovate and adapt. The free-market belief prevails among cattlemen just like it always has. The difference is that the rug has shifted left under their feet, and it seems only Republicans believe in free enterprise anymore. Politics is much more pervasive and inescapable than before and it is a more polarizing influence, a deeper chasm than ever.

So in order to understand the LAG people and how they could do some of the things they are doing, I think one has to look at them as liberals first. They are leftists who have given up on free markets, believe only government-regulated industry or government agencies themselves can do the job right, will go to any length or ally with any group or sue anyone to achieve their goals.

There's the old saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It's a cynical, somewhat desperate philosophy to embrace within your own industry. But that is what the LAG have decided. To them, the American agricultural system is not repairable. It is so broken, so faced in the wrong direction, that they have given up on it. Once they accepted that "reality" as they saw it, then to help speed up its demise is no crime. In fact, they feel they're doing the cattle industry a favor by helping everyone see the light faster. As one person I know put it, it's like the international spy who decides his country has lost its way so irretrievably, that he starts feeding state secrets to the enemy as a double agent to try to save the world.

If you think of the LAG as liberal or leftist activists first, some of whom just happen to be cattlemen second, you will have a more accurate picture of these cattlemen and their organizations. Liberals first, cattlemen second. Liberal principles trump the good of the beef industry. Having failed to convince mainstream cattlemen's organizations that they are right, they are taking the road all political and social revolutionaries eventually take. Only after the destruction of the established order can one build another system - of their own new-and-improved design.

The fringe cattlemen's groups try to justify their coalitions with the leftist activist groups by saying they have to find partners to have the desired impact.

Many cattlemen believe there is a line that you do not cross. I hearken back to George W. Bush's ultimatum to the world not so long ago about taking a stand: "If you are not with us, you are against us."

Did your mother ever repeat to you that axiom that, "You are known by the company you keep?"  How about, "Actions speak louder than words."  Both apply in this case.

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