Who is flip-flopping?
On the May 26th airing of the “What’s On Your Mind” radio show, the topic being discussed was Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). Dwight Keller, vice president of the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota (I-BAND), was the guest on that segment. A call came in from “Warren” of Gackle, ND. Warren’s question was why I-BAND opposed several years ago the National Animal Identification program, a government-run program, and yet supported COOL, another government program. It appeared that Warren was trying to point out a flip-flop in I-BAND policies. It seemed like the pot calling the kettle black, since Warren from Gackle serves on the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association (NDSA) board, a group that benefits directly from government mandated programs. NDSA was in favor of national animal ID and opposes COOL, both of which are government programs. Since Warren brought the subject of flip-flopping up, let’s take a closer look.
Animal ID had some flaws that I-BAND members did not like and could not support. We believed the information that would have been in this database could have been used unfairly against producers. But the biggest reason we opposed it as it was proposed back then was because the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) wanted to run the ID program on a national level, controlling the data collected. NDSA was successful in getting a law passed that said NDSA would be the administrator of any animal ID program in the state. We opposed this as well because we believe that no private group should be in control of a government program. There was a huge conflict of interest here, as NDSA would only control the database for cattle, horses, and mules, so all other forms of livestock would have to have had a database kept elsewhere. This kind of duplication of services would not and could not be efficiently administered, nor should the Board of Animal Health ever be in a position where it has to request or beg for information from a private entity when dealing with federal funds. Animal ID evolved into animal disease traceability and if this was truly the reason for the program, then the Board of Animal Health, N.D. Ag Department, and the State Vet would be the best guardians of, and vessels for, such a database. It is my belief that NCBA and NDSA simply wanted to pay themselves administrative fees.
On the other hand, I-BAND supports COOL because the information provided to our consumers via a label would be good for our consumers as well as producers. U.S. meat is labeled as such all over the world, including Canada, and our own citizens deserve the same. Remember, after all is said and done, the livestock industry is nothing without consumers.
Let’s examine a few other government programs that NDSA likes. NDSA supports government-mandated brand inspection. Maybe that’s because the group receives the funds for brand recording, brand inspection, and the estray fund. The estray fund is a joke in and of itself. Once again, the legislature passed a law that has proven to be self-serving for NDSA. The estray fund account holds monies from the sale of livestock, whether branded or unbranded, whose ownership has not been determined. The catch is, any money not claimed within 72 months becomes the property of NDSA. Where is the incentive to find the rightful owner and settle up when you are the recipient of these funds if you sit on them long enough? Did the legislature just legalize theft? How ironic for a group whose logo is “cattle protection through brand inpection.”
NDSA, with their environmental programs, handles EQIP funds (government funds), which is yet another duplication of services since the N.D. Ag Department also has such a program. Once again, administrative costs are collected.
And, last but not least, the beef checkoff is another mandatory government program. NDSA’s national affiliate, NCBA, is balancing its books with this program. NCBA receives in excess of 90 percent of the checkoff-funded contracts annually. This amounts to a whopping 82 percent of NCBA’s operating budget. I guess government programs are good as long as the cash cow keeps milking and private organizations like NDSA or NCBA are gaining financially.
As for COOL, I-BAND will stand strong in support of consumers’ right to know where their food comes from. In fact, next week some of I-BAND’s directors will be traveling to Washington D.C. to support COOL once again. These board members will be paying for this trip out of their own pockets and we’re proud to do so.