Get the facts straight
June 17, 2015
Mike Heaton made some wild assertions in his non-bylined letter to the editor in last week's edition of the Tri-State Livestock News. It made for some interesting reading – if you like fiction. If you are intent on accurate information, though, his letter doesn't pass the smell test, and your readers are entitled to better.
Heaton is not a North Dakota Stockmen's Association (NDSA) member and is certainly not qualified to interpret the NDSA's policy. If he was, he would have known that the organization did not support the National Animal Identification System plan as it was presented. The producer organization – through formal comments, agency meetings, press statements and public hearings – shared its concerns about the program's cost, effectiveness, ability to keep up with the speed of commerce and the possibility of it exposing livestock producers' private information to folks who shouldn't have it. I remember, because I was the group's spokesman at a regional NAIS listening session years ago.
NDSA members felt (and continue to feel) strongly that an animal identification system should build on time-honored, proven and producer-accepted identification programs, like North Dakota's brand programs, not scrap them for something untested. It was the NDSA that elevated that very discussion – a common-sense, cowboy- and cowgirl-style approach – on the national level and helped achieve the inclusion of the brand as official ID in some instances as part of the Animal Disease Traceability program. It was also the NDSA that initiated successful legislation on the state level to protect producers' private information collected as part of NAIS, so it wouldn't be out there for the world to capture and use in ways that could be harmful to operations and the families who run them. The NDSA and the Board of Animal Health have a good working relationship. The agencies work closely in their respective roles enforcing the state's livestock laws. In the days of NAIS, the agencies shared administration responsibilities, which was a benefit to livestock producers who opted to participate, since this gave them options and allowed them to take care of their brand and premises registration in one stop.
Heaton does not know the NDSA's position on country-of-origin labeling either. The organization supports industry-led, market-driven labeling and the industry's ability to differentiate its product in the marketplace. That's the essence of the resolution members put on the books years ago. Certainly, private, branded beef programs have been very successful and have resulted in information for consumers and value for producers. These are the types of labeling programs that the beef industry benefits from. The NDSA does not support the loophole-ridden, government-mandated COOL that not only has proven costly and ineffective, but, now, to add insult to injury, has put our nation on a most-certain path to serious retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico, two of our largest trading partners. One-hundred-percent tariffs on U.S. beef won't help drive up the price of your feeder calves on marketing day, I'll tell you that. They won't put extra jingle in North Dakota's pockets either when they're applied to other commodities produced here – like ethanol, corn products, pasta and French fries, which are among the items on Canada's published "hit list." It's foolish to hang on to the notion that this is going away. The United States lost the argument not once, but four times, already. It's time for Congress to repeal the mCOOL that puts us all at risk and for the beef industry to come together on ways to market U.S. beef that benefit our producers and don't cut off our noses to spite our proverbial faces.
Heaton is wrong about the statutorily assigned, NDSA-administered brand programs and estray fund too. I know that, because I have served on the Brand Board for many years. Brand inspection is a job the organization has had since 1949; brand recording is a job the organization has had since 1993. The fees collected for each program are not the organization's. Rather, they are the state's dollars, remitted on a monthly basis to the State Treasurer's Office for deposit within the state's accounts. Those dollars are appropriated back to the NDSA to administer the respective brand programs and cannot be co-mingled with the organization's dues division and membership efforts. And what about those estray dollars that are unclaimed after 72 months? Despite the grey cloud that Heaton tries to cast, those dollars can only be used to administer the brand programs – not for lobbying, litigation, or something slimy, like Heaton would like you to believe. But you don't have to take my word for it. North Dakota Century Code spells out how the firewall works and the Legislative Audit & Fiscal Review Committee oversees the NDSA's audit, which is conducted by a third party on an annual basis.
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I'm proud of the NDSA's Environmental Services Program, which has provided nearly 700 free, on-site and confidential ranch assessments, $5.7 million in cost-share assistance and technical assistance to producers implementing water quality compliance activities on their farms and ranches. The organization is able to do that through a combination of federal and state grants and private funding. (By the way, the NDSA has an Environmental Protection Agency Section 319 grant, not EQIP funds, as Heaton states.) The program creates a win-win situation for the environment and the producers needing help, who generally feel more comfortable inviting an environmental professional from a producer organization onto his or her operation than someone from the government. That was members' premise behind the creation of the program in 2001, and it is a perfect example of the service-oriented NDSA I am proud to be a member of.
It's America, and there's nothing requiring Mr. Heaton to support the NDSA or its many efforts to protect, promote and enhance the state's cattle industry. But he darn sure better get his facts straight before spouting off and misrepresenting an organization's policies and motives like he did.