Optimism on the left
Jan 20, 2009
A big question is where Barack Obama will try to lead the cattle industry.
During the campaign, he sounded a bit animal rightsy and a bit anti-trade and a bit populist and a bit anti-big business and more than a bit environmentalist.
But then he is, as his preacher mentioned, a politician and so who knows?
Anyhow, the guys at R-CALF and their splintered-off U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, have cause to be optimistic that with Obama and a heavily Democratic Congress, “the environment is now right to implement some of the issues we’ve been working on for 10 years,” to quote the former organization’s Bill Bullard.
That’s one reason you have not seen the sort of hue and cry you would have expected when the final COOL rule came out. There is a lot about the final rule the protectionists don’t like, but they saw no need to waste their rhetoric on the Bush USDA.
They will try, first, to get the new USDA to revise the rule, and, should that fail, they will look for changes from what they think will be a friendlier Congress.
Bill Bullard is also optimistic about making “progress”—his term, not necessarily mine—on other structural issues. Obama was among Senators who supported a ban on packer ownership of cattle, for instance, And among those concerned about JBS imposing such a large footprint on the industry.
Obama seems, early on, to be moving toward the center on a lot of non-agricultural issues. However, his environmental picks may point toward programs that professional cattle producers might find onerous. If those come, they will be welcomed by some sectors within agriculture who perceive anything that hurts “corporate agriculture” as good for “family farmers.”
Those rather visible folks might provide an Obama administration with all the political cover then need to make drastic changes in the way cattle are produced in this country.
The more I study them, the more convinced I am that Michael Pollan’s ideas will be important in the next few years. That means the cattle industry and beef production will be viewed as a problem rather than a beneficial segment of the economy.
That attitude—that current beef systems generate too much carbon and provide too much cheap beef—mixed with the “family farm” and “localvore” movements, might make the next four years very “interesting” for people who hope to do beef business as usual.