There was plenty of rah-rah and backslapping in evidence at the recent Sustainable Hog Farming Summit in New Bern, NC. The one-day, national gathering was a sort of "preach to the choir, mug for the camera" event staged to draw attention to the recent lawsuit brought against the pork industry by the activist group Water Keeper Alliance (WKA).
WKA is the activist organization headed by Robert Kennedy, Jr., which intends to sue the hog industry into oblivion. A phalanx of 15 law firms, some of them hot off the tobacco and pharmaceutical fronts, are now advancing on the large, integrated pork firms. These, of course, are the only pork operations with the assets necessary to properly compensate a lawyer crusading for justice.
The day was reportedly filled with cheers and jeers as activists, animal welfarists and lawyers extolled the virtues of family farms and condemned the evils of corporate firms. Nothing, however, created the pandemonium, one eyewitness tells me, of the USDA announcement read to attendees at the end of the day.
That announcement, coming out of Washington, D.C., was that pork producers had voted to kill the pork checkoff (page 78). What erupted was a celebration reminiscent of Mission Control when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.
Now, why would people professing to hold dear the interests of the family farmer go delirious at the demise of a self-help program intended to help build demand for pork products?
The reaction is as illuminating as the answer is simple. They don't care about the hog industry and they don't care about the family farmer.
It's one of the lessons the beef industry, and other commodity groups, would do well to absorb. Be careful with whom you hitchhike. Just because you're going in the same direction doesn't mean you share the same destination.
Another lesson from the pork checkoff vote is the danger of complacency. The vote totals, as announced by USDA, were 14,396 in favor of continuing the self-help program and 15,591 against. That amounts to well less than a third of folks who could have voted in the referendum.
Perhaps they were just whistling past the graveyard, but pork industry leaders were expressing confidence prior to the vote that the checkoff was safe. The fact that a decision so vital to the pork industry's future was made by less than a third of eligible voters seems to indicate poor producer awareness.
Dale Miller, editor of National Hog Farmer, the nation's leading pork industry publication, says the episode should serve as a wakeup call to other commodity checkoff programs.
"If I were the beef industry, I'd be scared. If pork goes down, the beef industry's case gets weaker," Miller says. "It (the pork checkoff vote) also sends a message to Washington, D.C. The danger is that legislators, most of whom probably don't understand the value of self-help programs, may use this vote as a future reference."
Miller is right. The pork vote experience will certainly embolden the naysayers. If beef producers, the vast majority of which annual surveys say support the checkoff, want to keep the program, it's time for the quiet majority to get more vocal.
Mike Apley Joins BEEF The medical profession's gain is our loss. Louis Perino, DVM, who has served the past two years as half of the "Vets' Opinion" team in BEEF magazine, has resigned his duties at West Texas A&M University to attend medical school. We'll miss his insightful contributions, and we wish Louis the best.
Perino's duties will be in able hands, however. This month, Mike Apley, an Iowa State University DVM, joins Kansas State University's Jerry Stokka as co-author of "Vets' Opinion" (page 46).
Mike is an assistant professor of beef production medicine in the Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine. He joined Iowa State in 1996 after being in private practice in Kansas and Colorado.
His activities include working with Iowa veterinarians as well as teaching beef production medicine. His research interests include bovine respiratory disease, food animal clinical pharmacology and antimicrobial resistance. Welcome, Mike.