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New R-CALF President comments on Trade- COOL

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R-CALF is concerned about giving access to the U.S. marketplace to foreign competition before we have a chance to regain our lost export markets. Realistically, when do you think we’ll regain access to those markets and how long do you think it will take to get back to pre-BSE market shares?

CHUCK KIKER: "Realistically, we are at completely different price levels than we were before BSE. We may never get back to the same market shares we had with individual countries. For instance, some offal products may be banned for years depending on the age of the animal. If prices remain at current levels in the U.S., we may not get back into some markets just because we can make more money selling into the domestic market. The key here is whether all segments of the industry are profitable, and that should be our goal.

We need to differentiate U.S. beef with country-of-origin labeling. Demand, competition and price discovery will determine which markets we regain. If the packing industry wants to buy cheaper product abroad and process it in the U.S. that’s fine, but sell it for what it is, imported meat, and label it accordingly.

I think the biggest problem with opening the Japanese market has been they made a specific request and USDA and the packing industry didn’t want to meet that request. The Japanese wanted all animals tested for BSE if that meat was going to be exported to Japan. We were told by USDA and the packers that we would end up having to test all cattle slaughtered in the U.S. if we did it for the Japanese. Now, we’re looking at age-verifying the cattle going to Japan and removing SRM's from them. I don’t think we are any better off."

COOL is a huge bone of contention. Some say the public doesn’t care about the origin of meat products. Others point out that almost all imported products are labeled with country-of-origin information. Let’s get to the bottom line, though – what advantages would COOL bring to the consumer?

CHUCK KIKER: "If the consumers really don’t care, and almost all imported products are labeled with country-of-origin information, then what is the big deal? Why have NCBA, the feeders, the packers, and the retailers spent millions of dollars fighting it? Why did USDA write such stringent preliminary rules and issue an economic analysis that made COOL look cost prohibitive? Why did the packers send out notices every time legislation came up concerning COOL on what were going to require of producers, trying to scare them out of supporting COOL? So, asking what advantages COOL would bring to the consumer is really circumventing the real issue.

Mandatory COOL is a tool that puts a little marketing power into the hands of cow/calf producers. M-COOL takes away the ability of packers to manipulate domestic cattle prices with imported supplies of cattle. In the pre-BSE debate over M-COOL, we were told that if beef prices went up, people would start eating chicken, which would take market share from beef. That hasn’t exactly been the case. In fact, all protein sources are experiencing good prices. In fact, beef prices all over the world are good. Either someone wasn’t being honest or the experts didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.

We were told M-COOL was cost prohibitive and would put producers out of business. Now, the same people who were selling that idea are trying to convince the same producers that a National ID program is crucial, along with how much of an increase in premiums we will make if we provide age verification and source verification. They have even gone so far as to say consumers want source verification. Retailers are saying source verification is detrimental to consumer confidence.

I’ve been led around by the nose and that’s why I’m in R-CALF now! R-CALF has addressed these issues and M-COOL with transparency, honesty, and sincerity, while our opponents have not.

Now, to answer the question as to how M-COOL benefits consumers: First, consumers do care where the food they put in their bodies comes from and how it was raised. They are misled into believing all the beef they buy is U.S. beef because it bears a USDA grade stamp.

With M-COOL, the consumers who want to buy U.S. beef will know without a doubt what they are buying. If they choose U.S. beef, they can buy it with confidence that it was raised according to all U.S. health and safety standards. By being able to choose U.S. beef, consumers will help to keep beef markets transparent, fair and competitive, and not allow packers and retailers to leverage down prices paid to ranchers, forcing them out of business. If consumers so choose, they can buy imported product, and we think it will probably be cheaper. Choosing U.S. beef and keeping the U.S. cattle industry healthy is good for consumers because it secures for them a dependable, safe, wholesome food supply. An added bonus is that a healthy U.S. cattle industry translates into a vibrant economy in Rural America, which benefits everyone."

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