My View From The Country

Remember When It Was Cool To Be Anti-Trade?

I’m sure it is still possible to find those who will argue against trade, but the facts have come to overwhelm the demagoguery.

The anti-trade rhetoric in our industry has almost ceased to exist. I don’t find that surprising, as I always considered it nonsensical. However, the industry was a lot more receptive to demagogues when profitability and margins were tight.

Recent USDA data illustrates not just how important exports are to our industry, but what an important role they will play in our future. Exports have been up, with key markets like Mexico and Asia up by 10% or more. The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) estimates that beef exports were up 12% in March and 17% in value. Meanwhile, beef exports accounted for 14% of total production and 11% of muscle cuts, which were both up by about 2% compared to a year ago. Every fed animal for beef was $271.57, up nearly $50 from a year ago. To put that number into perspective, take away exports and every 550-lb. calf would be worth approximately 50¢/cwt. less than it is today! 

Back in the anti-trade days, the bulk of economists, universities and cattlemen’s groups stressed that the trade numbers were being misinterpreted and misunderstood by those advocating closure of our borders to the world. Of course, the message had a populist appeal, and spawned a new cattle organization with an anti-trade, anti-free market message.

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One thing you can say about cattlemen is that they aren’t fooled for long. The anti-free market, anti-capitalism, anti-big are messages with staying power, but the anti-trade message has been so thoroughly refuted at this point that it has largely been abandoned. Thankfully for the anti-trade groups, they have been able to survive by morphing into other issues.

I think mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL), for instance, will be one of those issues that people will look back on in 20 years and wonder how it could have consumed so much industry energy. And it will make no sense unless one understands that labeling wasn’t the issue per se; it was about industry politics and competing world views as organizations fought for survival and their membership.

I’m sure it is still possible today to find those who will argue against trade. In fact, an online poll posted on this week asked: “how important are exports to beef prices?" Of the respondents, 99% said they were “somewhat important” to “essential,” while just 1% said they were “not at all important.”

Yes, the facts have come to overwhelm the demagoguery today. And that’s usually the case with populist appeals that aren’t aimed at some inherent human weakness; eventually their message falls away, to be resurrected when a new generation and a supportive climate allow them to spring forth again. 

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group. 



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Discuss this Blog Entry 5

Gene Schriefer (not verified)
on May 30, 2014

I've tried mexican beef it was lower priced and I just wanted to see what it was like. Now that I have I don't need to do it again. I'm glad it was labeled. Now if I buy beef I can buy something consistent. Without a label, how do I avoid wasting my dollars?

Other ag products from around the world are labeled so this issue is larger than what you try to allude. I'm not at all comfortable with the food safety inspection system in China. They are wiling to poison their own people, what are the willing to send us, With a country of origin label I can avoid the purchase, keep my family safe and not support a country where human rights are abused.

All my livestock tags have our name right on them. I'm proud of what I produce and I want others to know it, and I expect more when others are bidding on my animals and get it. because it's labeled.

Once again Troy you are a pandering mouthpiece to the packing industry. All lack of label will do is charge a higher price for cheap imported beef and ruin demand, while the packer earns more income in the short term.

ABProducer (not verified)
on May 30, 2014

From another point of view, the Canadian point of view, I have to whole-heartedly agree with Troy. The mCOOL issue has nothing to do with labelling, it is truly a political game. mCOOL has cost Canadian producers significantly; if you were to take the time to educate yourself on more than one point of view, you would understand this. Many Canadian cattle are shipped across the line as calves to be fed out in American feedlots, but mCOOL has really put restrictions on this as it affects the labelling and increases the costs to feed out and process our cattle. It has had an impact on our markets, and therefore, my family's ability to make a living in the cattle industry.
I have several American cattle producer friends, and they have taken the time to educate themselves on the Canadian beef industry and understand that we have very high standards and our cattle industries are very intertwined and rely on each other. As a Canadian cattle producer, who produces safe, high quality beef, to feed my family and others, I am truly offended by your comments and I encourage you to look beyond your very narrow view of the world. We should be working together, not against each other.

Greg W. (not verified)
on May 30, 2014

Troy Marshall, You are the one out of touch.
May you go the way of GM!

on Jun 4, 2014

Aha the 1% bitter clinger. One of the 30? members of OCM, or perhaps the last of the Marxist communist ? The chairman of the flat earth society maybe?

HD (not verified)
on May 30, 2014

Mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL), is a good idea.

Some countries can be trusted - China absolutely cannot.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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