Jay Truitt

NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Jay Truitt

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is a player in Washington, D.C.—even when the playing field changes.

Speaking to members of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association at their annual meeting in Springfield last week, NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Jay Truitt told beef producers that the last congressional election brought dramatic changes to the way things operate in the nation's capital.

"The dynamics that we used to work with have shifted," Truitt said. "It's a big switch but we're still there working every day and we are still effective."

Truitt drew a standing ovation when he took to the stage. The beef industry's top lobbyist has deep roots in Missouri, from his family's cow/calf operation to his stint as executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association. He discussed a host of ongoing political issues but at the heart of most was the change in power from a Republican-controlled Congress to one dominated by Democrats.

In the House, Truitt noted, Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson and Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte switched spots with Peterson now heading up the House Ag Committee and Goodlatte in the role of the ranking Republican. That's significant, Truitt said, because of the two congressmen's polar positions on issues important to the beef industry.

Peterson, Truitt said, supports mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and animal identification while Goodlatte prefers both to be voluntary.

Similarly in the Senate, Ag Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Ia.) is for mandatory COOL and animal ID while the ranking Republican, Saxby Chambers of Georgia wants COOL to be industry driven and animal ID to be driven by the marketplace.

Those viewpoints obviously come into play in the writing of the Farm Bill and other legislation important to cattlemen, Truitt said, adding that there are a host of other new factors at work as well.

"There are a lot of new players," Truitt asserted, explaining the fruit and vegetable growers, the alternative energy industry and other groups now weigh in heavily. The most troublesome newcomers, he said, may be mega-funded animal rights activist groups..

"I don't think most of us have any concept of how much money is in that world," Truitt said. "The groups we are fighting against have over $750 million in their kitties—there are states with budgets that are smaller."

The activist group Consumers Union has a $164 million budget all by itself, Truitt pointed out. The Humane Society of the United States has a $100-million budget and PeTA's is nearly $29 million. Throw in Greenpeace, Farm Sanctuary and an alphabet soup of other organizations and the American livestock industry has formidable foes aligned against it.

And nearly all of them, Truitt said, would just love to see animal agriculture go away.

Other critical issues NCBA is working on include a host of environmental topics. Designating manure as hazardous waste, including dust as "coarse particulate matter" and subject to national air quality standards, expansion of the Clean Water Act to federalize water on private land, and an expansion of the scope of the Endangered Species Act.

Some environment issues, such as problems for CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) in obtaining a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, have an immediate impact on the beef industry.

"Drought has shrunk the cowherd in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and, now, in the Southeast," Truitt observed. "We need this industry to grow again and environmental issues are one reason it isn't."

Regarding trade, the beef industry spokesman said the recent agreement with Peru was important as much for its style as its substance. The pact, Truitt said, was based on science and will hopefully set a course for other agreements. He also told the cattlemen that the industry must continue to work hard to "fully re-grow" beef export markets with South Korea, Japan and other nations.

Truitt also touched on the impact of increased ethanol production on the beef industry.

"There is inflamed rhetoric on both sides," he said. "People are either for it or against it. ... We feel that the government should slow down (in encouraging ethanol expansion) and see what the effects are going to be. There is a direct correlation between feeder cattle prices and corn prices. We want all people in agriculture to be profitable but we want good, sound policy with which to move ahead."

Truitt closed by encouraging cattlemen to stay hooked to the political process.

"You are the ones who make the difference," he said. "You're the reason we have well-thought out policies that are clear, concise and principled.

You're the reason we can be effective in Washington, D.C. ... I would encourage each of you to go back home and think about the people you know who should be involved. Don't worry about whether they are people you agree with 100 percent of the time. We need thoughtful cattlemen and women so this organization and this industry can remain strong."

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