Most people with a passion for the industry see three industry organizations as even more disruptive than what two proved to be. However, the newest organization -- the U.S. Cattlemen's Association (USCA) -- already appears to have assumed status as the legitimate opposition group to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).
Initially, according to votes and board membership, one would have said that Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) was splitting right down the middle. But as things have progressed, that appears not to be the case. The majority of R-CALF's committee leadership, and certainly the leaders with the closest ties to actual cattlemen, appear to be joining the new USCA.
It seems obvious that the litigious and combative nature of R-CALF was very effective in gaining grassroots support, but an absolute failure in getting policy implemented. R-CALF is similar to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is effective in garnering headlines, filing lawsuits and raising awareness, but is classified as a radical fringe group by the majority of those in power. Meanwhile, Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) is really the group with the political clout to get policy implemented. In essence, the USCA is aiming to become the beef industry's HSUS.
Many folks contend that, with mostly the same leadership in USCA as in the original leadership of R-CALF, it's just a case of different stripes on the same zebra, but I don't believe that. Experience is a wonderful teacher and I believe USCA's change in rhetoric is heartfelt. This new group is not merely about being the opposition or about building fervor, but rather about saying it has a role in the process.
Of course, it remains a shame that such a small handful of issues is causing such industry division, and that the debate didn't happen internally in order to preserve the industry's single voice. The industry as a whole has squandered many opportunities as result of the internal conflict. Undoubtedly, NCBA will continue to have the most influential voice in Washington but I can't believe the industry is well served by division.
Perhaps, however, there's simply too large of a difference between the pro-market, pro-trade, pro-value-based marketing viewpoint, and the more populist anti-trade, pro-government involvement, and anti-value-based marketing viewpoints for them to coexist.
It does seem, however, that the final chapter of the R-CALF vs. NCBA debate is written. The new focus will be on whether USCA can become the mainstream political force it hopes to become, and whether we'll see the cattle industry evolve similarly to the farming sector and its rivalry between the Farm Bureau and Farmer's Union. Another question is whether the difficulties of having yet another split in cattle-industry representation (R-CALF vs. USCA) will marginalize both organizations to the point both are ineffective.
-- Troy Marshall