Last July, R-CALF President Max Thornsberry wrote a blog piece headlined, “We May Have Won One.” The high-fiving entry celebrated the fast-track pace of the proposed GIPSA rule on market competition published the month before. After all the years and likely millions of dollars wasted by R-CALF in fruitless court battles, that headline was a particularly candid one.
It was also telling in that it displays the heady confidence of the rule’s supporters at that time, a confidence that was likely justified given the fact that:
- The administration in power is all too eager to eschew free-market principles in favor of social justice.
- The head of GIPSA is J. Dudley Butler, an R-CALF member, a founding member of the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), and a plaintiff’s attorney who pursued antitrust cases in his Mississippi practice before assuming his federal appointment. For another take on Butler, read "Fox Guarding The Hen House" at biggovernment.com/. Or, for still another take, read former Rep. Bob Barr’s (R-GA) comments at thehill.com/opinion/.
- The rule had garnered just a 60-day comment period – amazing for a measure that threatened to turn the livestock marketing sector on its ear.
But something happened on the way to the victory party. The first hiccup was widespread outrage over the scant 60-day comment period. After saying he wouldn’t alter it, Butler was forced by his superiors to extend it to Nov. 22.
Then came the castigation of USDA officials during congressional hearings regarding overstepping of congressional intentions, including adding measures that Congress had clearly rejected. Then, it was revealed that Butler had told an OCM meeting last year (after assuming leadership of GIPSA) that implementation of the rule would be “a plaintiff lawyer’s dream.”
Capping it all was a commentary written by Patrick Goggins, an R-CALF patriarch, denunciating the GIPSA rule. Even Temple Grandin, the renowned animal behaviorist and animal handling expert, has characterized the rule as harming or the progress the industry has made in humane animal treatment.
But, there’s no doubt the administration is running a hurry-up offense on this measure. Just as in the debate over health care, cap-and-trade, and financial regulation, it is a grab driven by emotion and hastened along lest folks really learn what the actual results will be. Even a bipartisan call by 115 congressmen earlier this month for an impact study was dutifully denied by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Much has been made of the workshop on livestock competition issues conducted by USDA and the Department of Justice in Fort Collins, CO, in late August. But I thought much more telling was the evening before when the two competing sides held rallies. I attended both.
Opponents of the rule presented scholarly, reasoned dialog and science. Meanwhile, the proponents put on an emotional display of anecdotes, unionists railing against Wal-Mart, and castigations of modern agriculture from urban farmers and what is essentially an anti-meat group called Food & Water Watch.
Surveys of BEEF readers indicate that a huge majority are against the GIPSA rule. They want the freedom to compete without the government stepping in to designate winners and losers. As one Kansas speaker at the Fort Collins meeting put it: “Don’t take away my right to market as I choose because you’re too lazy to do your own.”
The truth is that casting aside decades of efficiency and reverting to a commodity market won’t build a vibrant industry. It’s a recipe for a more expensive product, and thus falling demand and a shrinking industry. Like the Titanic, we’ll all be in the same boat, but heading only one way – down.