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Sel Inflicted Wounds Hurt Worse

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Mike

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Self-Inflicted Wounds Always Hurt The Worst
The market fallout from the reinstatement of Japan's ban on U.S. beef has been minimal thus far. After all, so little product had moved to Japan since the market opened Dec. 12.

Another positive note is that the recent market closure hasn't jeopardized the recently announced reopenings of other Pacific Rim markets, such as Taiwan and South Korea. While the closure certainly puts the brakes to the Japan market for U.S. beef, popular thought is it won't compel Japan to rethink its overall decision. It does provide, however, a reason for Japan to question our ability to abide with agreements.

USDA has become one of the industry's favorite whipping boys; this time the trip to the woodshed is likely justified. It certainly questions whether USDA can adequately police exporters.

The industry can take some solace in the fact the latest miscue isn't a food safety issue. The embarrassment, however, is real. The obvious blame goes to Atlantic Veal and Lamb, the Brooklyn, NY, firm that somehow failed to grasp and follow the restrictions. There's plenty of blame to share, however.

This is a huge industry with a wide diversity of producers and operations. USDA's third-party verification and inspection of the process may be vital from an integrity standpoint but the system as it relates to assuring consumer confidence and safety is a fragile one.

Very little of our product is branded. It moves through commodity channels, so we operate largely under a system similar to mutually assured destruction -- I'll do everything possible to take care of the product in my hands, and I'll rely on everyone else to do the same. Problem is, if one link in the chain messes up, everyone pays.

This latest incident is a great argument for moving away from a commodity system. In a typical industry, the shipper's stock price would plummet, buyers would flee them, people would lose jobs, and the whole thing would be but a blip on the aggregate radar screen.

But in our commodity system, everyone gets painted with the same broad brush. Exports are shut down, and the system's failings are accentuated to the point food safety becomes an issue, if not among consumers then among the activists who relish such opportunities.

Once again, the damage this time was largely self-inflicted. It hurts a lot more when such injuries come by your own hand. We can assign blame, but we all will pay the price.
-- Troy Marshall
 

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