NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A recording-breaking crowd of nearly 7,000 cattlemen and women from across the country jockeyed for a seat at the second general session of the 2012 Cattle Industry Convention and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Trade Show in Nashville, Tenn.
Chaos vs. advocacy
NCBA President-elect J.D. Alexander painted a picture of regulatory chaos in Washington, D.C., but pointed to grassroots advocacy as the primary reason the cattle industry was able to “weather the storm.”
“Because of the partnership between our state affiliates and your national organization, we managed to prevent ourselves from being the main course at the big government cafe,” said Alexander, who is also a cattleman from Nebraska. “This partnership — this grassroots policy process — is the shining star of this industry. You have a voice and it is being heard loud and clear.”
Alexander used the slew of regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration’s proposed rule on livestock marketing; and the Department of Transportation’s proposed rule, which would have required cattlemen to acquire commercial driver’s licenses, as examples of cattlemen’s successful pushback of burdensome regulations.
Alexander said NCBA will continue pushing for practical legislation and a commonsense approach to regulations. He called the estate tax his top policy priority as the 2012 NCBA president.
International trade, cattle payment efficiency and herd health were among the key policy issues members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association honed in on during the convention.
Outgoing NCBA President Bill Donald said the grassroots policy process was put into action this week as policy resolutions, which originated in local and state cattlemen organizations, advanced through committees and were passed by NCBA members during the annual convention.
Donald said NCBA members keyed in on international trade, specifically the Trans-Pacific Partnership, during the convention. He said a resolution was passed that codified NCBA support of a TPP that removes tariff and non-tariff trade barriers for U.S. beef to participating countries, which include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Donald said NCBA insists all participating countries, as well as any countries that join the TPP in the future, must fully abide by guidelines set by the World Organization for Animal Health.
Trade was not the only issue considered by NCBA members. Colin Woodall, NCBA vice president of government affairs, said a resolution was passed to encourage a more efficient payment system for fed cattle.
Woodall said at a time when it takes more capital to feed cattle and when cattle feeders want to buy replacement cattle in a timely manner, a recent announcement from the U.S. Postal Service that first class mail delivery will slow in the future will cause problems for the efficient delivery of payment for cattle.
He said NCBA will work with the packing sector of the industry to development a more efficient and expeditious payment system for fed cattle.
Donald, who is a Montana rancher, said the current management of bison on federal lands by the Department of Interior has cattlemen concerned about the health of the cattle herd. While co-mingling of bison and other native wildlife with cattle is unpreventable, Donald said the relocation of the Greater Yellowstone Area or other federally-owned bison is a liability cattlemen aren’t willing to bear.
NCBA members passed a resolution opposing the relocation of any bison outside the current GYA management area, the expansion of that area and any increase in the currently authorized GYA bison population.
During the convention, Ellen Gilinsky, of the Environmental Protection Agency, answered questions regarding the proposed Clean Water Act Section 308 CAFO Reporting Rule.
The center of concern stems from what was referred to as a serious overreach of EPA’s authority. Ashley Lyon, NCBA deputy environmental counsel, said the proposed rule could put the nation’s food system at risk of increased terrorist attacks.
“EPA should pull this rule. The agency needs to redirect its focus to working with states and other partners to attain already publicly available information that would allow them to work toward their goal of improved water quality,” said Lyon. “This can be done in a way that does not put our food system at increased risk.”
According to concerns raised, this rule was developed through a consent decree with environmental groups. Cattlemen voiced their concern that more and more regulations are coming from these type of agreements where cattle producers don’t have a seat at the table.
The proposed rule requires all cattle operations meeting the regulatory definition of a CAFO to report a long list of information about their operations to EPA, including latitude and longitude (or street address) of the production area, acres available for land application of manure, type and number of head and contact information for the owner or authorized representative.
EPA would place this information on the agency’s website in an easily searchable database, where Lyon fears extremists could access the information with the intent to do harm to cattle operations or the nation’s food system.
Gilinsky said EPA understands the cattle industry’s biosecurity and privacy concerns and wants to work with them. She said the final rule will be released July 13. If finalized as proposed, Lyon said any non-compliance with the rule would be a violation of the CWA and be subject to fines of up to $37,500 per day.
Tom Talbot, chairman of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattle Health and Well-Being committee, led a discussion at the convention which ranged from the latest science and research to ensuring effective cattle care to federal legislation to mandate on-farm production practices.
Talbot said despite challenges cattle producers face, raising healthy cattle is and always has been a top priority.
Kristina Butts, NCBA executive director of legislative affairs, said while cattlemen make it their top priority to care for their animals, there are organizations that attempt to paint a different picture of animal agriculture. Specifically, Butts discussed an agreement entered into by the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers to seek federal legislation to mandate egg production practices.
Butts said legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Kurt Schrader to codify that agreement creates a slippery slope to allow the federal government to mandate on-farm production practices for all sectors of the agricultural industry.