I'm completely baffled by R-CALF's most recent project (“R-CALF's strange bedfellows,” July, page 4). Its alliance with Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Consumers Union (CU) and Public Citizen (PC) certainly creates some strange bedfellows.

On the surface, the alliance was created for the purpose of publicly criticizing USDA; the agency's “competency and integrity” are now in question stemming from recent BSE blunders. I have no interest in excusing or rationalizing any of USDA's actions, but R-CALF's position strikes me as nonsensical and inherently conflicted.

R-CALF is a staunch proponent of mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL). COOL implementation stipulates enforcement responsibility to reside with USDA; the law is written, per Bill Bullard's account, to provide the agency “…authority to regulate retailers and those who supply covered commodities to retailers…” Per that documentation, R-CALF places complete confidence in USDA; their policy implies the agency is worthy of the industry's trust.

Simultaneously, R-CALF joins with CFA, CU and PC in a coordinated effort to question and discredit USDA's competency. The association endorsed press releases from the consumer groups, one of which says: “USDA [is] failing at every turn on Mad Cow.” USDA, according to R-CALF, is worthy of overseeing COOL but, on the other hand, questions its credibility. Which is it? R-CALF's split-decision is puzzling.

The ramifications worsen. First, R-CALF's CFA/CU/PC alliance projects a disturbing image; R-CALF's leadership must believe its constituency is somehow inherently handicapped when it comes to advocacy and policy implementation. Second, it indicates R-CALF, despite its beef producer mantra, possesses no fundamental ideology.

The result is inconsistent and self-destructive decision-making, which must disappoint R-CALF's membership. It's the only plausible explanation why R-CALF's leadership would enter into such a dubious joint venture.

The net result is R-CALF has now established a dangerous precedent; its reputation may be tarnished beyond repair. The alliance portrays prioritization of grandstanding expediency over development of meaningful and enduring partnerships with groups possessing similar values, objectives and intentions.

That's especially true considering that R-CALF believes “…the degree of benefits of COOL to U.S. cattle producers will depend on the cattle industry's ability to promote its product in a meaningful way.” Granted, this is not a COOL issue, but the principle remains. Partnering with CFA, CU and PC proves to be an effective means of advancing the beef industry and promoting its products? I think not. Once again, the double-talk defies logic.

When viewed from a broader context, the very existence of the venture is the most egregious fact of all. For whatever reason, R-CALF leadership resorted to a divisive association with entities possessing neither vested interest nor a commitment to the beef industry. The absence of an established, principled agenda has opened R-CALF up to exploitation at the expense of the entire beef complex.

For instance, CFA's headline concerning the matter reprimanded the Bush Administration (“Questions of Competence and Credibility”), not USDA. That being the case, it appears R-CALF's leadership has settled for, or been duped into, being a pawn for larger outside political interests and alternative agendas in this all-important election year. Where is the reciprocity for the beef industry in that?

What's a beef producer to make of this? I can't address that. Unfortunately, for the beef industry, I'm not confident R-CALF can, either.
Nevil Speer, PhD
Associate Professor, Animal Science
Western Kentucky University
Bowling Green, KY

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