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Another Step Closer: R-CALF Runs Ad in the Washington Post PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Wednesday, 16 March 2005

Further ratcheting up their campaign, R-CALF on Tuesday, March 15 placed an ad in the Washington Post raising questions and uncertainties about "mad cow," taking their message directly to the American public.

Using words and phrases like "fatal disease," "high-risk" and "uncertainties" in USDA's knowledge of BSE, it is the latest effort to scare U.S. consumers about BSE ? bought, paid for and placed on purpose, in a nationally circulated newspaper published in the city that sets national policy.

The ad's subhead reminds consumers that four Canadian cows have been identified with mad cow, two of them reported in January. Continually trying to muddle the statistical probabilities for consumers, R-CALF never mentions that no cases were reported for a year between the Washington state (U.S.) cow and the most recent cases.

Not surprisingly, the ad quotes from Judge Cebull's inaccurate and misleading opinion granting the temporary injunction against the Final Rule in early March. The quote refers to a "rush to reopen the border regardless of uncertainties in the agency's knowledge of the possible impacts on human and animal health." This after nearly 20 years of worldwide research and multiple recent examinations of Canada's entire feed and beef producing system.

The ad also misleadingly quotes an Inspector General's report that had nothing to do with the Final Rule.

The ad further states, under a photo of a cowboy, "Our high health standards are needed to protect consumers, the beef industry and U.S. jobs." Once again, R-CALF is reinforcing the idea that USDA, the agency that surveys indicate consumers (rightfully) trust to safeguard their food, can't be trusted on "mad cow." (The ad never uses the proper abbreviation BSE, instead continuing to foster the fear of the mysterious "mad cow.") The message is that consumers should only listen to R-CALF ? no one else knows what they're doing or can be trusted.

While that insidious campaign against the concept of consumers trusting USDA is the worst part of the whole ad, their claims of safeguarding U.S. jobs is astounding, given the reality. R-CALF's efforts have been directly responsible for extending shift cutbacks and elimination of others at packers nationwide and threatening the existence of border packers that depend on cattle supply from both sides of the border. By constantly suing USDA, R-CALF has extended the border closure from short-term to a long-term situation. That has induced the permanent export of packing industry jobs from the U.S. to Canada.

The ramped up expansion of packing capacity in Canada is exacerbating the current excess packing capacity in the U.S. Worse still, it means Canada will, in another year or so, be nearly self-sufficient in packing capacity. That will put more pressure on U.S. packers facing an even smaller supply of cattle than the normal cycle level. Plants operating at less than the optimal slaughter rate lose money. The effect is likely to be further contraction of U.S. packing capacity, either through plant closings or further mergers and more concentration of the packing industry. That is not protecting U.S. jobs or helping preserve packer customers for U.S. cattle feeders and, in turn, calf producers.

Once Canadian cattlemen no longer need U.S. packing plants at all, the not inconsiderable ill-will R-CALF has engendered is also likely to affect Canada's willingness to trade in grain, feeder cattle or to feed cattle in U.S. feedlots. Not sitting on their hands, large amounts of private funding and $87 million in government funding is being assembled to boost marketing of Canadian beef. Since Canada is the only other significant source of high-quality, grain-fed beef besides the U.S., it is a safe assumption that Canada will be a more aggressive competitor in the world market? and have the cattle and packing capacity to back it up. The relationship, the competitive situation ? and the motivation ? will never be the same again.

And what effect is all this tumult having on the prospects of opening the Japanese markets? In an "Inside Washington Today" column from Informa Economics, Inc., Jim Weisemeyer reports that in direct conversations with Japanese trade officials, they said R-CALF actions have contributed to delaying the opening of the Japanese market. Wiesemeyer said the officials told him that R-CALF's harping on the risk of Canadian beef was increasing Japanese consumer concern about U.S. beef, as they view the risk as similar. And if R-CALF doesn't trust the international SRM standards, Japanese consumers are questioning why they should either.

If you look at the BSE situation from the world perspective, as borne out by the statistics, it's not hard to see why the Japanese might consider the U.S. and Canada as similar situations, compared to the U.K. R-CALF has contended that Canada could be another U.K. Here is the data from the OIE (World Animal Health Organization) website, regarding the beginning of BSE respective discovery cycles:



 Canada U.S.
 First Year* BSE cases: 446



 Second Year BSE cases: 2,514



 Third Year BSE cases: 7,228






*"First Year" for U.K. - 1987, Canada - 2003. "First Year" for U.S. for comparison illustration only. U.S. has no reported indigenous cases to date.
**the OIE counts the 3rd Canadian case as reported in Dec. 2004.

We were surprised to learn that R-CALF had even met with the Japanese or that they were reportedly perplexed to learn they were part of the problem, not the solution. Their stated position has been that R-CALF's focus is the domestic market and that the cattle market has done just fine without exports. In their opinion, keeping the border closed has been virtually the only factor driving cattle prices. They don't consider reduced cattle numbers, the economy, alliances and branded beef, high protein diets and new products as having to do with the strength of demand and cattle prices.

R-CALF is very proud of the effect it has had on the national and international scene the last couple of years. Not a day goes by that that pride is harder and harder for many cattlemen to understand. R-CALF's actions are becoming more and more threatening to the well-being of the entire beef industry. We only hope their fixation on imports composing a tiny fraction of the market does not turn into a death wish for the entire American beef chain.

Click on the links before to view OIE charts. The first link is for the U.K. chart. Second link is for rest of world. The third link is to a graphic of the ad.

UK BSE Report

Rest of World

R-CALF Washington Post ad


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