Saturday, May 10, 2003

Kicked back

Have you ever halter broken a bull? I don’t know exactly how many I have tied on to but it probably runs near a couple hundred. It is not unusual to lose your patience during this process. But if you really lose your cool and make the mistake of giving the bull a good sound kick, it goes without saying that it really will hurt you more than it hurts him. And most likely it will still be hurting you tomorrow or even a week from now.

I just attend the U.S.D.A. listening session in Kearney, NE about the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) legislation. I couldn’t help but think of how that meeting compared to halter-breaking bulls.

Throughout all of the rhetoric, hashed and re-hashed, not one single person mentioned the real reason that this law was introduced in the first place.

Arguments for this program come from people who want to switch sides of the fence depending on where the grass is greener. Numerous commodity check-offs have been challenged in court. The same folks who are against the check-off, because it is mandatory, are in favor of mandatory country of origin labeling. If it’s not OK to mandate a check-off, then why is it completely acceptable to force labeling of the same product?

During one testimony, a person involved in direct marketing supported the mandatory COOL program because she said consumers preferred their product because they know it is produced right here in the U.S. If one of her marketing tools includes telling consumers that U.S. farmers produced the product, won’t it be harder to differentiate her product from the generic competition if COOL is implemented and all of the products are labeled as such?

The most popular argument for COOL is that consumers have said they are willing to pay more for a product that is “Made in the USA”. Proponents continually reference a study published by scientists from Colorado State University. However, these very scientists testified during the listening session that these results were not intended to be used for public policy setting in this manner. There were only 278 people surveyed and the study was not designed to seek information about consumer preferences regarding the origin of food. Anyone familiar with scientific data and statistical analysis knows that you can’t take the results and mold them to fit your scenario if that is not how the study was designed.

I heard people touting Country of Origin Labeling for meat because “they know where every piece of their clothing was made and yet consumers don’t have an opportunity to know where their meat comes from.” I think that is comparing apples and oranges. The tag in your shirt may say “Made in China”, but it says nothing about where the cotton field was or which Iraqi oil well produced the petroleum to make the 35% polyester that keeps it from wrinkling.

The key word “mandatory” equals frustration. Frustration is the true reason this law was initiated. Frustration may not enough go deep enough to describe what is really pulsing through the veins of many of these people. I believe it is actually anger and desperation. Anger because we have few and bigger players in the food business. The meat industry has done a tremendous job of producing and marketing the safest, healthiest supply of food the world has ever seen. These folks are either forced to change the way they do things or be left behind.

Anger, frustration or desperation by some in the industry has forced them to kick the industry like I kicked the bull. They haven’t seemed to grasp the fact that it doesn’t matter how big the bull is, when he kicks back, IT HURTS.

No comments: