MIDWESTERN RANCHERS' DISCONTENT & THE NOVEMBER
ELECTIONS: AN ELECTORAL TIME BOMB TICKING
IN THE AMERICAN HEARTLAND
By Christopher G. Adamo
Agriculture, the economic backbone of this region, has been hit hard by wrongheaded policies on the part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and in particular the apparent hostility of USDA chief Ann Veneman towards America’s s beef producers. Among those whose livelihood is raising cattle, the ultimate responsibility for bad policy rests with the Bush administration .
The major controversy surrounds two issues in particular: “Country of Origin Labeling” (COOL) and government response to BSE (Mad Cow) disease. In both cases, a reasonable and proper approach would satisfy ranchers and livestock growers, who overwhelmingly tend to be Conservative and Republican. Yet USDA priorities appear to be tilted towards big-money lobbying efforts by multinational meat packing corporations.
The American beef market has not yet recovered from the disastrous mishandling of last winter’s Mad Cow episode, which resulted in, among other things, Japan suspending its American beef imports. Had the Canadian origin of the cow in question been immediately made public (the information was readily available), the Japanese boycott may well have been forestalled.
Since that time, American cattle growers have had to face the threat of a government BSE testing program that could conceivably produce numerous false alarms, any of which could devastate American livestock production. Rather than rely on a virtually foolproof BSE test, the USDA is planning on a two-phase process in which a preliminary test that yields immediate (though sometimes erroneous) results would be followed up with a more precise test, the results of which may take two weeks. However, enormous problems arise from the USDA’s intention to make preliminary results public.
If such a program is implemented, the predictable scare that is sure to follow any inconclusive test holds the potential to completely shut down American beef exports. And by the time the slower follow-up test negated any false-positives, livestock growers may lose millions of dollars from a needlessly panicked market.
Meanwhile, it has been learned that the USDA allowed 33.5 million pounds of Canadian beef to illegally enter the United States since last Winter’s BSE incident. Attempting to deflect criticism, the USDA countered that the actual number is significantly lower, at 7 million pounds, as if that fixes anything. So, just as the American culture faces threats of an illegal invasion of immigrants though its southern borders, so are American beef markets being illegally invaded from the North. And as unwilling as is the Immigration and Naturalization Service to decisively secure America from foreign intruders, so is the Department of Agriculture refusing to safeguard American livestock markets from illegal foreign encroachment.
Nor can American consumers protect themselves against such illegal imports, on account of yet another wrongful action by the USDA. Efforts by American beef producers to implement “Country Of Origin Labeling” (COOL), while successful in the Congress, have met with indefensible USDA stonewalling. Though passed into law more than two years ago, the USDA not only ignored its responsibility to implement “COOL,” it actively opposed it through a propaganda war designed to completely discredit it.
As a reward for this obstructionism, Congress, at the urging of Republicans who are unsympathetic to small business agriculture, has agreed to delay implementation of “COOL” for at least two years. But, if its passage was the right thing to do, why is the present not the right time to implement it? Clearly, this “delay” is nothing but another stalling tactic, by which multinational corporations who oppose “COOL” hope to see its eventual demise.
Anyone who has paid attention to politics in recent years can certainly remember the famous red and blue map of the United States, printed in USA. Today to show, by county, those areas of the country that supported George W. Bush (red) as opposed to Al Gore (blue). The year’s presidential race is far too critical, and the present polling numbers too close, for President Bush to risk going into the election contending with a newly established “blue” region, right in the middle of the country. If he doesn’t want to face such a prospect, he had better take prompt and decisive action to clean house at the Department of Agriculture.
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