The real “cow tax”
Dec 17, 2008
By Steve Cornett
It looks like the “cow tax” brouhaha was a bit premature, but don’t think there may not be some fire where the smoke seems to have cleared.
The notion of a direct, per head, tax drew plenty of flak from the country. Even Chuck Grassley recognized it as lacking “common sense.” But Obama’s EPA doesn’t have to do a direct carbon tax on cattle. It has other options to increase the cost of production enough to reduce livestock numbers further.
Carol Browner, expected to be named today to head the new administration’s new policy council that is to coordinate climate, environment and energy issues, was hardly a shrinking violet on environmental issues when she served as head of the Clinton EPA.
As the Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial, she is not likely to follow the Bush Administration’s idea of exempting carbon from the Clean Air Act.
If you visit the Ag Web's "Talk Cattle" discussion board, you’ll see that a lot of cattle producers—and, we’d hope, feed producers as well—reacted negatively to the idea of a cow tax. They rightly note that such a tax would drive many producers out of business.
The question is how effective that argument will be against a Carol Browner armed with Michael Pollan’s ruminations about farm policy. Mr. Pollan, you’ll recall, sees cattle production and beef consumption as problems. Running producers out of business and reducing cow herds is exactly what he and his followers want.
They think cattle are a significant producer of greenhouse gases and they think beef consumption adds to health costs.
There is no indication the Obama group will or won’t adopt a direct “cow tax” to achieve that end, but it won’t take a “cow tax.” It will simply take tougher regulations on manure management. If what has always been defined as a “benefit” in cost-benefit analysis can be redefined as part of the “cost” –and that is exactly what Mr. Pollan and the New York
Times think cattle production is—then the industry-regulator relationship could change drastically.
And when it does, you may wish they had simply imposed a $60 or $100 per head tax upfront. What happens may be much harder on your bottom line.
It’s time for cattle producers who hope to see their businesses stay in operation long term to get involved in their local and national organizations. All that howling about the cow tax turned heads in Washington. But the next move won’t be so obvious, and it will probably have more PR finesse behind it.
You need professional representation, or there is a chance the Obama administration, through folks like Ms. Browner, will be remembered as the era in which cattle went the way of the sheep industry.
Steve Cornett is editor emeritus at Beef Today. You can reach him via e-mail at email@example.com.
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