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July 2008 Archive for Out to Pasture

RSS By: Steve Cornett, Beef Today

Read the latest blog from Steve Cornett.

COOL dudes get their wish

Jul 30, 2008
 By Steve Cornett
      Ok, COOL dudes. You’ve got your rules. You can read all gripping 233 pages of them at
       The headline on yesterday's Fort Bend paper gives us a glimpse into a possible future headline for beef:
U.S. Jalapenos Safe To Eat, FDA Now Says, But Not Those Grown In Mexico 
      You noticed that the tomato and chile businesses have just finished a food safety nightmare, and it was precisely because FDA couldn’t find the source of a few bad apples, er, jalapenos, and thus chose to warn us against anything that might be the source of salmonella.
      All you NAIS haters out there may not like it, but traceability is going to be more and more important—and not because people are clamoring for “grown in the USA” labels. Because it will allow the food police to trace problems to their source.
      To the extent COOL will facilitate that effort, we’ll have a less free, but arguably safer, world. If USDA can use the paper trail associated with COOL back to the source of an e. coli problem, they can do two things: One, eliminate the problem; and Two, clear the innocent. Let them eat tomatoes from anywhere, or belly burners from the U.S., but stop the Mexican jalapenos.
      At least that’s what one would hope. Have you tried to make your way through that regulation?
        I’ve been looking for people who could help me with a short cut to understanding what they say, without much luck. As one association fellow put it, “we were surprised they didn’t put out a press release or synopsis or something. But when we saw (the order) we realized they didn’t want to read it, either.”
      It looks like USDA has reduced the paperwork burden some, but they didn’t’ go for the COOLsters’ argument that anything that wasn’t branded with an M or C could be called U.S. origin.
      They will allow affidavits as evidence of U.S. origin, but you’ll have to keep records on every animal you ship, and everybody who owns him later will have to keep copies of your papers. That could be a bit of a paperwork burden for, say, auctions or feedyards that handle thousands of cattle from different sources, but the auction movement was a big supporter of COOL, so they at least won’t mind.
      A lot of people don’t think the U.S. label will add much value. Still others—the same sort of folks who brag on driving domestic cars and not shopping at WalMart because they import stuff—are convinced consumers will be happy to spend extra to get U.S. product.
      The packers should love this. Sure, they’ll have extra expense segregating cattle and beef, but it looks like the law will also create a paper trail all the way back to cow calf producers. So if they want to find out where a certain genetically unique coli bacterium came from, they can just follow it back down the line.
      That will be bad for me if my cows are the source of the offending product, but good for you and thousands more if they can say
U.S. Beef Safe To Eat, FDA Now Says, But Not Steve’s.
      COOL will not add much value to U.S. beef. The stuff is too generic. Some is great, some is not so great. But moving further down the line of traceability—and, yes, accountability—there’s your value. And your medicine.

Hurt me. Please!

Jul 23, 2008
By Steve Cornett

            So, tell me again why I shouldn’t ship emaciated cows to the auction barn? Because he might get his picture on TV?
            The HSUS spy cam pictures of the downer cattle from last month set off a storm of efforts in cattle production and marketing channels to “educate” producers, marketers and packers about how to handle nonambulatory cattle.
            Do you think education will be enough?
            I don’t. Do you remember the term “realizer?” That’s an animal I’ve given up on and put on the trailer to the sale barn or local packing company in hopes of “realizing” whatever I can.
            If you don’t know the routine, you can bet your local dairy farmer does. You put those cattle on the truck because it’s zero risk. She might make it and bring a few bucks, and even if she dies enroute, it’s not your problem
            Do you suppose you can “educate” me not to do that? Of course you can, but not by simply appealing to my better self. You need to charge me some scratch. Enough scratch to leave a scar, you know?  You know guys like me: Give me a problem involving money vs. " doing the right thing" and my only question is "how much money are we talking about here?" I may be a minority in that, but it's a sizable minority.
            I would point out here that it is not the producer who put the downer-to-be on the trucks that gets the black eye when a HSUS rat gets video of a cow being dragged around. We don’t know who sent those dairy cows to the Portales sale. All we know is how the Portales hired help handled a tough situation.
            Livestock auctioning is a competitive business, and no sale barn wants to get crosswise with a seller-customer. But they should turn down potential downers and they should make sure the seller—me, the guy who put emaciated old Bossy on the truck hoping she would fetch me a couple hundred—pays the expense.
            Part of the agreement between me, the seller, and he, the auction market, should be that I stand the expense—marked up as auction markets do so well with other expenses—of dealing with downer cows. There should be a downside to downers for sellers as well as buyers.
            I would argue that the Livestock Marketing Association should codify the BQA advice of not shipping anything with a Body Condition Score of 1. LMA should set a standard that the barns will not accept cows like that. It should be an industry standard, and the shipper should know up front that if he ships such a cow he will be out a pretty penny. Not a petty penny, mind you. A pretty penny. Pretty enough to make him adjust his culling procedures.
            All God’s cows got to die, we know. But they need to do it before they force some poor guy at the sale barn to make the sort of decisions we saw in those videos.
            Education and exhortation are great. We can do better if we think about it. But we all learn better when we get slapped up side the head with a dollar bill.

A clarification to the correction

Jul 14, 2008
By Steve Cornett

            What we have learned since this blog started is there are a lot of people who spend a lot of time Googling or RSSing horse slaughter stories and tirading away on the writers.
           This is one way, and those of us in agriculture should learn, a committed few can sound like a movement.
            Several have found us, and we have their thoughts to consider.
            A couple of the questions need to be addressed.
            Respondent LRS is correct. I should have said “convinced the House of Representatives” to outlaw horse slaughter for human consumption. The House passed the bill, but it was blocked in the Senate.
            That would not take R-E-S-E-A-R-C-H because I covered it at the time. It would take memory. However, alas, I had filed it away in my brain as de jure rather than the de facto it is because the “some states” that have banned horse slaughter for human consumption include Texas and Illinois which are the only states that had plants.
            So the folks in this movement have managed to get horse slaughter effectively banned in the U.S. There are no slaughter plants. The horses are shipped to other countries if they have enough flesh on them to pay freight.        
            As to why it is important to beef producers. First, most have a nag or two. Second, a lot of us see this as a slippery slope in America’s core ontology: Today they came for my horse; Tomorrow they come for my cow.
            If you guys can convince our legislators that it is somehow morally wrong for humans to eat horse meat, how long before the full vegans succeed in instituting their own set of blue laws?
            A lot of us, Neanderthal though it be, think of horses as property. We think we should be allowed to market our property as we wish so long as it doesn’t negatively impact another human. That would, again, be “human,” a separate and, many of us believe, special, species.     
            We think if you don’t want me to kill and eat my horse or sell it  to some unenlightened European, you should provide what the constitution, Neanderthal though it be, refers to as “just compensation” which would best be determined in an auction with all bidders.
            To put that a bit more succinctly, get some money from Willie and Bo, latch onto some of PETA’s $30 million a year and a little bit of the $80 million HSUS rakes in, and outbid the packer buyers. Buy your rich, caring selves a ranch, and put them there.
            They could frolic.

Correction: Not crazy. Just shallow.

Jul 09, 2008
By Steve Cornett
            Here, courtesy of a respondent to an earlier blog, is a You -tube link that will almost certainly turn the hardest heart in the world against horse slaughter.
            It is a discussion among Morgan Fairchild, Bo Derek and a couple of other famous boobs, including Willie Nelson, talking about the fact that we don’t slaughter eagles and we don’t “allow” people in the U.S. to eat dogs and cats.
            Say, what? It’s against the law to eat dogs? I thought they just tasted bad. Anyhow, these are the experts who—or “whom” as Beth in Illinois would phrase it--helped convince Congress to outlaw horse slaughter in the U.S.
            You can accuse me of not being a Willie Nelson fan, but even a backwoods hillbilly moron like myself has to admire Bo Derek’s talents. I admire both of them. Willie and Bo, that is.
            I’m just less than convinced that these folks should be advising Congress on anything more substantive than wine vintages.

Crazy horse policy

Jul 09, 2008
By Steve Cornett

It’s crazy.

Here’s a place to go read something crazy. /files/cnn.pdf

It’s a page of comments on a story about activists’ efforts to keep the government from euthanizing the thousands of wild horses that, left to nature would be happy to eat much of the west into dust.

If you click into the foundation’s home page, you see the dilemma facing the livestock industry. The comments on the CNN story have both points of view represented. However, notice that the foundation has got a nice financial boost out of the publicity.

If you buy into the proposition that wild horses are a greater symbol of the American west than are cattle and ranchers, the story affords a nice easy way to find a way to contribute money to your cause.

Moreover, it’s an easy cause to get your heart into. Who doesn’t like the thought of wild horses running free? Of perfect black stallions rearing just like Zane Grey dreamed of? That’s why people who think with their hearts—and that includes a bunch of hillbilly singers, including Lacy J. Dalton, founder of the foundation in question and her fellow wild horseman, Willie Nelson—tend to get involved in these issues.

If, however, you think with your brain instead of your heart, and regard it as folly that the government should be buying up scarce feed resources and spending scarce public monies to keep 30,000 unwanted animals, to whom would you contribute

Nobody, near as I can tell. There is not a “Let ‘em die” foundation or a “Slaughter ‘em and let the French enjoy ‘em” foundation.

There should be, although the founders might choose more oblique names. Western Way of Life foundation, for instance. Ranchers Defense Fund maybe. Society for the Protection of the Public Lands.

Don’t get me wrong. I like horses fine. I like Lacy J. Dalton fine. I even like Willie Nelson, when he shuts up and sings or writes songs like “I’m crazy for crying and crazy for trying.”

But my theory goes like this: You spend too much time in honky tonks and smoking dope, you get cloudy in your thought process.

How crazy is it to use public lands to breed horses for which the only use is going to a tax-supported welfare program?

If you want to have a breeding herd, fine. But then put them to use. Sell them. Eat them. Turn them into dogfood. Anything else is crazy.

Better news from Korea

Jul 02, 2008


            Maybe the Korean mess will settle out one of these days. But even if doesn’t, we are going to export more and more beef.
            And that’s a good thing, because we’re probably going to see a price rise one of these months that will spin the heads on our own consumers.
            A big part of our own economic problem in the U.S. is the sudden growth in consumer buying ability abroad. Our poor people remain quite rich by comparison, but they are not as well able to compete for things like fuel and steel as they were.
            As those purchases take more of their money, there will be less for the luxuries. And beef, for many Americans, is a luxury. Once we get the price of cattle high enough for our production chain to make a real profit, it will be even more of a luxury—and that can hardly bode well for consumer demand.
            We have to sell this stuff to furrners, folks. Our product is a bargain in most parts of the world.  That is why we must insist on fair trading rules and why this reporter refuses to condemn the Administration for not yielding to Korea’s consumerists for short-term gain in that one market.
            Better to lose Korea than lose the principle of following trade rules and standing by agreements.
            There is reason to be optimistic about Korea, anyhow, judging by the  latest news stories.
            Lee seems to showing resolve and there seems to be significant demand among consumers.     
            Our biggest concern needs to be whether the protestors will allow retailers to sell U.S. beef. Marketers are notoriously spooky about standing up to pressure groups.
            There’s little doubt we’ll sell a lot of beef in Korea if we get a fair shot. Despite all the protests, there are a lot of Koreans eager to buy U.S. One recent poll indicated that most Koreans believed the protests should stop.
            If as much as half of the country’s consumers believe U.S. beef is safe, price alone should justify a quick return to pre-ban sales.
            But while we’re all so focused on Korea, beef exports continue to grow. The United States Meat Export Federation reported this week that during the week of June 13-19, U.S. beef export sales exceeded those for the same week in 2003 – the last pre-BSE year – by 12%.
Year-to-date exports still trail 2003 totals by nearly 39%, but they’ve grown enough already to contribute significantly to the fed cattle market’s surprising strength of late.
You know that U.S. beef will finally get a share of the explosive growth in worldwide income. One of the first things a poor man does when he gets some kaching in his jeans is buy some beef.
The industry’s job here is to make sure we get access to that world of new eaters.
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