Dittmer: R-CALF still considers mCOOL salvation

Free Market Reflections with Steve Dittmer

It is astonishing, really, that R-CALF does not exist in a Communist country, because they seem totally ignorant of free market economics. They do not understand any other segments of a production chain besides themselves but really prefer a command-and-control economy, directed by… themselves, of course.

They have not given up on mCOOL, despite a nearly total yawn from most consumers and rejection by international trade law.

The bad thing is, they have harassed USDA enough that Ag Secretary Sonny Purdue told the House Ag Committee that they would actually consider some kind of “WTO-compliant” proposal. Nothing may come of it. But that comment is throwing chum to the sharks, when it comes to R-CALF and other poorly informed and highly misled fringe groups and city politicians.

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A key part of R-CALF’s WTO-compliant proposal is forcing mCOOL labelling for all food service beef and processed or prepared beef dishes.

The mCOOL law was in effect from 2009-15. In their data cherry-picking style, R-CALF claims that the higher cattle prices of 2014 and parts of 2015 were due to the mCOOL law. The real cause was a drought-induced lower cattle supply. If anything, mCOOL pressured prices in late 2015, with huge retaliatory tariffs looming.

R-CALF still insists that there is a food safety problem with imports, pretending there is no USDA or USDA-equivalent inspection as is required for any imported beef.

Because R-CALF regards processors and retailers as a lower form of business life, with total disregard for quality and safety standards, and no responsiveness to customer wishes or spending, R-CALF insists they are hoodwinking consumers. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle might have been written last week, to hear R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard.

Reinstating mCOOL would “Allow consumers to selectively avoid beef from countries that may have food safety problems,” R-CALF claims.

In the decade before mCOOL’s repeal, the U.S. imported only about five to six per cent of slaughter from Canada. Mexico supplied, on average, about five per cent of the U.S.’s calf crop numbers.

R-CALF’s focus is on Mexico and Canada, yet much of the beef that the U.S. imports is lean beef that comes from elsewhere, for grinding with our Choice 50/50 trim, greatly adding to its value.

The constant complaint from R-CALF is “lower-cost imports” pushing U.S. beef prices down, yet beef is imported because it first meets quality and safety standards, is available, and after transportation costs, is still cost competitive. That doesn’t happen often, or the volume would be larger.

Another R-CALF claim is that packers just lie that imported cattle and their resulting beef has to be segregated from other production to label the packaged beef product by its country-of-origin. They also claim no additional record-keeping is necessary. This time, they are contending that packers handle Certified Angus Beef (CAB) with no trouble, so tracking beef from different countries is no problem. They ignore that CAB is graded and designated at the carcass stage. No one knows what the origin is because that is not a qualification factor. A CAB designation is not comparable to origin. The foreign country hide brand isn’t on the meat cuts.

They also compare to natural or organic designations, but those cattle are often restricted to certain plants and shifts, and the segregation and special processing cost extra. That is why those cuts in the grocery store cost 25 to 50 per cent more.

The group claims it’s a myth that packers and retailers would be labelling beef for mCOOL if consumers wanted it. Consumer surveys have consistently shown that some shoppers would like origin information but nearly all of them don’t want to pay for it. Top priorities for selecting beef include tenderness, flavour, price, juiciness and convenience. Origin is further down the list.

But not trusting the market — which is consumers voting with their dollars — R-CALF wants to force them to pay extra for information most don’t care about and won’t pay for. That was proven for six years.

R-CALF’s fantasy has always been a wall around the U.S. keeping everything else out. They want American consumers at their mercy, to increase the price of cattle. Free trade is meant to provide a country’s consumers/citizens/taxpayers the widest array of products at the best prices. R-CALF doesn’t want that.

That American beef producers should sell their high-quality beef, variety meats and byproducts worldwide, to get the most value from the animal, is foreign to R-CALF. Bullard has said he doesn’t believe exports add over $300/fed animal to total value.

Just like R-CALF recruited a group funded by class action trial lawyers to sue the beef check-off, it is recruiting politicians and activist groups to help consumers “know” where their beef “comes from.” That 85 to 90 per cent of it comes from America doesn’t faze R-CALF. They want to force the entire production chain to spend millions to bend the populace to their will. A socialist, communist concept.

About the author

Contributor

Steve Dittmer is the CEO of Agribusiness Freedom Foundation, a non-profit group promoting free market principles throughout the food chain. He can be reached at [email protected]

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