Don’t Forget to Write

Published on: 11:02AM Dec 28, 2009

By Steve Cornett

As the New Year approaches, this is the last week for what?

You’re thinking about moving bills into the old year, aren’t you? Or, if it’s been one of THOSE years for you, maybe trying to shift some income forward?

Not me. I don’t like managing taxes. I like bloviating about agricultural politics. So for me, this is the last week to submit comments to the Department of Justice on what you think is wrong with the way the cattle business is structured.

You’ll recall that DOJ and USDA are planning to conduct a series of workshops during 2010 to explore issues arising from things like vertical integration in agriculture. This could, judging from some of the statements attributed to administration players, be part of that “fundamental restructuring” that Obama promised during his campaign.

For instance, I see the boss of the Packers and Stockyards Association quoted by a friend as having said that “corporations are like sharks. They just swim and eat.”

I’m not a big fan of corporations myself. But I think they have their place, and I fret as much—nowadays, at least—about the backfires of government’s soft-hearted, and softer-headed, efforts to “help,” than I do the greed of corporations.
I know from reading my mail, however, that there are a lot of cattle producers out there who lay awake nights worrying about these very issues, believing that corporate power and government passivity are fully reponsible for so many producers disappearing the last few decades. 

Let’s just hope that all these hearings—and the legislation that results—find solutions to problems and not just scapegoats.

One hopeful note—at least in my beef backer’s book—was struck earlier this month when P&SA moved to put a few more shackles on poultry integrators. It’s the first time in a long time that USDA has done anything to tighten the screws on beef’s "cheep" meat competitors. One doubts consumers will benefit much, but my policy goes like this “if it makes chicken cost more, I’m all for it.”

That’s been, and remains, my concern.  The beef industry can probably prosper despite the millstone of populist government interference if the competition has to operate under the same rules. But not if the industry is forced, unilaterally, into structural mayhem in the name of “fairness.”

It’s just my opinion—and my daughter loves to remind me during political discussions that “everybody has one”—that so long as you’ve got giant retail chains and integrated poultry and pork industries in the mix, about the dumbest way you could possibly “help” cattle producers is to cripple the people and, yes, corporations, who market their product..

All that said, and despite knowing that people who agree will never bother with letters to DOJ, let’s reiterate:

Dec. 31 is the deadline for submitting your own opinion on the effects concentration and integration have had on the cattle business and agriculture in general. You can find instructions and addresses at

Just guessing, but I imagine they would really like to hear from you if it’s been one of THOSE years this year for you. Maybe you’ll get to play Joe the Plumber in one or more congressional campaigns next year.

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

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 signup.