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RSS By: Steve Cornett, Beef Today

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A Reply to the Replies About COOL

Nov 24, 2009

By Steve Cornett

You may have seen, earlier this week, the blog about my red Chinese boots and mandatory country of origin labeling--Boots, Beef and Buying American. Note from the responses that I stand accused, again, of being an anti-American corporate lackey.

Among the responses was a note from Dr. Max Thornsberry, president of R-Calf USA. We’ve reprinted it. And so here’s my response to his response.

Hi Max.

Your assumption that those ornery retailers are using Angus as a ploy to convince consumers they’re buying a U.S. product is sooo—that a four-o sooo—wrong. There are plenty of Angus in Mexico and Canada. Marketers filched the Angus name long, long ago, not because it connotes US origin, but high quality.

If “made in the USA” had the same panache, the ad men would be touting that instead.

Not to be too obvious, but if the marketers thought consumers cared about origin, they now have access to plenty of U.S. labeled beef they could promote that way. They wouldn’t have to borrow the Angus name.

The problem is, not enough consumers care about the country of origin. People aren’t going to beat a path to your door for a commodity mouse trap.

But you’re right. COOL is the law of the land. So, why aren't those of you with platforms and memberships and protectionist bents not working on a program to sell U.S. beef? You birds are so busy trying to get the government to constrain the packing and retail businesses that you don't have time to sell your own product.

Various states are putting together state checkoff programs. Why don't I see your name on any of those efforts? State programs can be designed to be able to promote U.S. product in competition with foreign beef AND fowl meat. The federal checkoff is hamstrung along those lines. It’s the law of the land.

It seems to me that those of you who forced COOL on the rest of us should take the lead in helping sell the public on the value. You seem to think simple xenophobia will give the label value. Darn it, Max, there just aren't enough xenophobes nowadays who care, and that's why the retailers are so cold on COOL. Not everybody in America thinks like you.

Why don't you guys put together a new national Beef Industry Council kind of organization to explain those labels to consumers and create some demand-pull for the product? The retailers say there is none. The packers have no incentive to create it. The only entity out there with a vested interest in selling COOL beef is US cow-calf producers.

As a feeder and/or stocker operator, you can buy and feed Mexican cattle. JBS can buy and sell Canadian cattle. Retailers can buy and sell Mexican cattle. Consumers are showing us they don’t care. So, nobody but cow and calf guys realizes any value from COOL
It's all cost and no reward and that impacts demand and hurts everybody in the chain. 

You say:
The U.S., with all its government mandates, will never be the low cost producer of beef.  I believe that within 10 years, if something is not done to level out trade differences in production costs, that U.S. beef production will be largely reduced to corporate ownership, just like occurred with the U.S. swine production system.  The U.S. beef production system is right where the U.S. pork production system was in 1985.  I give us about 10 years.

Do we have to be the "low cost" producer to compete? Does Lexus have to be the low cost producer? Do black-hided cattle have to be cheaper to have a market?

Don't we have some sizzle and value that we can merchandise? Don’t we believe we have the “safest, highest-quality beef in the world?” Why don’t those of you with followings and a knack for organizing tell that story?

We might find, as a lot of folks do when they begin serious marketing programs, that we don’t offer a lot of value people can’t get elsewhere; that there are things we could do in our production systems to create more value and increase demand for our product. Things, I would argue, like traceability and quality controls aimed at providing a more satisfactory product.

A lot of the folks who rag on me at least have grass fed and natural products--attributes that some consumers want--to sell. There is some demand-pull for their product. They back it up with marketing programs. 

What's COOL got? Just you guys writing mean, scared-of-competition, letters to editors, politicians and each other, near as I can tell.

Why do you think U.S. beef is more valuable than Canadian beef or Mexican beef? Why would a consumer prefer one over the other?
And, most importantly, WHO is telling them that?

The national checkoff sells generic beef. That message should remain “buy beef not fowl.” That is a big enough job for a paltry $1-per-head program.  Fowl meat has, in the last three decades, taken a lot more market share from U.S. beef than imports ever will.

Now you need a separate--additive--program that says “buy US, not Brazilian, beef.”

You guys in the R-Calf/USCA crowd keep trying to "save independent producers" by hiding behind the government’s skirts, trying to get others to pay your bills. That isn't going to work. Cattle producers need to come out and speak for themselves, not just lie in the bottom of the chute and bawl at the sky about Brazil and Canada.

Cattle feeders, packers and retailers have no reason NOT to buy and sell U.S. It’s just that, without demand-pull, they also have no incentive. That’s the job of US cattle producers and organizations--and you’re not doing it.

So don’t blame me or the retailers for stating the obvious.

Steve Cornett is editor emeritus at Beef Today. You can reach him via e-mail at

This column is part of the Beef Today Cattle Drive e-newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes beef industry analysis, market information as well as the latest beef headline news. Click here to subscribe.


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COMMENTS (4 Comments)

I agree with GLA. You call a spade a spade. Kinda like john Wayne, and Lord knows we need him now more than ever. I am amazed that the R-Calf crowd are so bent on tearing down the industry. Don't you think that's what the HSUS and PETA are gleefully enjoying now?

Keep up the good work Steve!
10:05 PM Dec 8th
Ole Anonymous, he's the idot. At least you put your name on a piece of work and stand by it, right or wrong!

Your comment about all the R-Calf whinners was about as common sense as I've heard. Get off your duff, quit whinning and do something to promote and move can't leave that job to anyone else...they're always waiting for Joey to do it...and Joey don't care about you.

This is exactly why I use Age & Source, I'm proud of what I produce and willing to put my name on it. From there I try to help merchandise my product to those folks who will do the same thing...on down the line. It ain't rocket science, just do it!

Keep writing Steve, I'll keep reading.
8:17 AM Nov 25th

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