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Out to Pasture

RSS By: Steve Cornett, Beef Today

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Herds of Cattlemen Converge on Ft. Collins

Aug 26, 2010

Just after noon today, there were more than 1,300 people registered for the big hearing on competition in agriculture and “more coming in all the time,” according to a spokesman at the host site Colorado State University. Your reporter is burrowed into a Ft. Collins motel room awaiting the first of two pre-hearing pep-rallies scheduled later today.

The plan—and this is more plan than promise because this particular reporter is not the most technologically adept member of the Farm Journal Media team—is to file occasional updates today and tomorrow from there—somebody with fewer years and more IQ points will scatter them in the inter-ether.       

So let’s look at what’s up. There are many, many cattle people headed this way. Buses full, in fact. NCBA and the National Pork Producers Council put out a call for their members to show up. There were several fitting that bill on the plane I road in from Amarillo this morning. More of the folks from cattle feeding country are expected tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the “family farm” outfits—led by R-Calf—are busing in their members from around the country. Most of the guys I rode in with would bend a reporter’s ear about the need to maintain freedom of choice in the cattle market. Most of those buses are filled with people who think otherwise.

So far, it seems the latter group is in the ascendancy. Judging by my mail, more of the anti-packers than the free market advocates are enthused enough about their cause to take action. They certainly have the support of Dudley Butler, the bossman at GIPSA. Or at least, the rule he has proposed indicates he sides more with those who believe more must be done to curb the power of meat processors.

I don’t know all the speakers the Administration’s organizers have lined up, so it will be interesting to see what unfolds. Here's a link to the agenda.

One group of Senators seems concerned about the way the agency sought participation and how the speakers were chosen—see the letter here—but some of the NCBA fans admit to being pleasantly surprised.

I’ll be honest with you. I expect more heat than light at this deal. But Pat Goggins—the Montana firebrand publisher who did as much as anybody to get this Civil War started—editorialized last week against killing value based marketing. That strikes some as a sign the proposed rule goes too far for even the committed.

Maybe we’ll get to sense some walk-back from the administration. Many believe that Eric Holder and Christine Varney were taken aback by the tone of House Agriculture Committee democrats when the latter group accused Mr. Butler of trying to “write legislation” with the proposed regulations. The, perhaps wistful, thinking among free marketers is that they had been sold the idea that there was universal support among “farmers” for such far-reaching legislation.

That is not, obviously, the case and the question is whether this format will allow that fact to become clear to the very busy, very-outsider folks from DOJ.

It’s possible there would be more political cost than profit for the Administration in pursuing the full package of regulations as proposed. It’s not like Holder and Varney don’t have some low-hanging fruit they could pluck to placate the packer haters. They could always announce they’re going to forbid JBS from buying McIlhaney on the grounds that would be too much packer ownership.

In terms of sating bloodlust, that would be like tossing a drumstick to a pride of lions, but it might offer a useful political distraction for an administration that could use a few distractions.
On the other hand, this administration is committed to “fundamental change.” Dudley Butler and these proposed regulations have codified a bit of exactly that. It seems like the administration these days is trying to, as the national pundits call it, “energize the base” and you can bet these regulations are doing that for the agricultural segment of the anticorporatists.

More information to look at:

The letter Senators sent earlier this week questioning the reliability of this hearing.



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