Seemingly, there's never a shortage of issues that promise to have dramatic impacts on the industry, but this year promises to be especially important. It's almost easy to forget big issues such as national ID, food safety, endangered species, public lands, taxes, marketing, etc., what with all the conversation and the industry's attention decidedly turned towards BSE. But all of those issues are as alive and well.

The industry remains outmanned and under-funded in contrast to its opponents. But, the reputation earned by cattlemen over the years has not only enabled us to prevail in most cases, but make significant progress, particularly in the last couple of years.

Our greatest weapon in the political wars we find ourselves involved in is that the industry remain factually based and unflinching in its resolve to deal with issues honestly, sincerely and with character. It's a policy that's served us well.

Admittedly, there have been mistakes along the way, but I truly love these industry gatherings. That's because despite all of the heartfelt debate and discussion, you always feel that decisions are made and policies created with one thing in common -- they're done with the industry's best interest at heart.

It's always amazing to see such democracy in action, to see the initial fervor evolve with debate into sound policy that not only considers short-term but long-term ramifications.

Indeed, there are a lot of proposals being discussed relative to the top-of-mind issue of BSE and Canada. But, listening to the various state associations and looking at the policies they plan to carry to San Antonio next week, it's fairly easy to predict the outcome if not the exact policies that emerge.

Cattlemen are overwhelmingly opposed to the March 7 date from a timing standpoint, and to the allowing of product from cattle more than 30 months of age into this country. They have reservations and questions. They're concerned rightly about risk to domestic beef demand. They want concrete proof of Canada's compliance with its own feed ban.

At the same time, the majority realize trade has a dramatic positive impact on the beef industry, and that we must get trade re-established by holding true to trade policy that is based on sound science.

While the policy debates will undoubtedly have a little tension from time to time, if history holds true, the industry will find a policy that matches both short-term and long-term considerations and, just as importantly, has a realistic plan and approach to ensure it's implemented.