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AFF Sentinel-Vol 20#07-Railing At “Multinational” Packers Again

It's Always Their Fault

Steve Dittmer | AFF Sentinel

Colorado Springs, CO

Originally sent to subscribers 02/21/23

Our very first brochure explaining the genesis of AFF contained the following statement: “Our goal is to provide the majority in agriculture the intellectual ammunition to bolster their inner belief that it is possible to value the traditions and heritage of the past but still embrace the future and the changes it brings.”

Our goal hasn’t changed and the future, as we expected, has brought some changes, some new requirements, some needs for adaptations to the industry’s approach.

The twin requirements of more intense, more focused management of animal production and welfare and the need to protect animals -- and animal production outfits -- from foreign diseases have caused many in the industry to want the best, most capable individual animal identification means we can get.

We’ve been around long enough to remember when cattle feeders at any cattlemen’s meeting could be recognized by certain behaviors when a speaker neared the end of his or her talk. It wasn’t a three-point stance like an NFL outside pass rusher but it was close. The feeder would stealthily begin edging his chair back and get up on the edge of his seat. If he was in the back of the room, he could cheat a bit and make his move while the speaker was still wrapping up. If he was up near the front, courtesy dictated he had to wait until the speaker quit.

Either way, the next move was a sprint out the door to get to the pay phones before they were all taken up.

To clue you young folks in, you see, feeders needed to get the latest intel from the office on packer offers, or call a packer buyer or find out what the futures were doing.

Then Cattle-Fax came along and installed analysts in cattlemen’s associations officers around the country, in order to cut long-distance telephone costs and give cattlemen access to local analysts.

Then fax machines came along, followed by cheaper phone rates (deregulation), followed by internet and e-mail.

Now, that circuitous path has condensed all those efforts into a tiny computer (phone) in cattlemen’s pockets, with more information than we’ve ever had and programs (apps) to digest and provide calculations to assist cattle business management.

So it is with privacy. Ranchers used to have thousands of cattle scattered in dozens of places not even they could always find at the drop of a hat. Smaller operators had little bunches in little patches of grass all over the place. We hate to break it to everyone, but the NSA likely has the capability to find out where all your cattle are if they wanted to catch up to what the Chinese already knew.

We long ago gave up total freedom of cattle movement in order to deal with TB, bangs (brucellosis), tick fever and other assorted ailments our critters are susceptible to, to say nothing of cattle theft (brand laws).

But cattle don’t move as much by horses and cowboys over the long trails like they used to. Cattle can be loaded quickly and be hundreds of miles away before sundown. Our means of tracking and identifying them have not kept up with the management requirements (computer and internet speed) or the speed and contagious nature of diseases.

But the same groups who opposed using electronic ID years ago are at it again. No surprise. The only surprise is the twisted way of opposing the USDA’s ID requirements one of them has come up with. But one has to consider the source.

Over 15 years ago, we still remember a huge laugh we heard at the R-CALF annual meeting that year in Denver. Phil Seng, USMEF CEO was explaining the effects of BSE having closed all the export markets to U.S. cattle and beef. R-CALF was suing USDA to make sure the border with Canada stayed closed. Seng said that if the border would re-open, packers would need and pay more for fed cattle in order to satisfy demand from Canada and Mexico.

The R-CALF audience roared with laughter. They could not conceive of packers paying more for cattle because they could make more money by having more beef to sell in more markets. Surely, the packers would keep all the money themselves.

So we suppose it’s not a huge leap of faith for R-CALF’s CEO Bill Bullard to somehow wrap the chain around his thinking axle and blame the packers again. Because he is of the opinion that USDA’s proposal to require electronic ID is just a plot to help the packers -- excuse us -- the “multinational” packers, to protect all that loot they collect from export customers and keep it for themselves.

How does he arrive at that conclusion?

One has to remember that Bullard has always claimed R-CALF’s lawsuits helping to keep the border closed caused the price of cattle to go up. Actually, the market had already gone up months before the border was closed. The market was on a roll before the BSE cow was discovered (12/23/2003) in the U.S., the borders were closed and the export markets disappeared -- some of them for many years. Predictably, the fed price for cattle dropped, not increased. In fact, the whole industry froze, wondering what was going to happen.

In keeping with his misremembering of the cattle market then, Bullard claims the packers -- excuse us -- the “multinational” packers, want the electronic ID program so that if something like FMD closes the export markets off, the U.S. market will be “flooded with products that were intended for foreign markets and this increased supply will lower domestic prices and producers’ profits.” Bullard claims the packers “had to pay more for U.S. cattle when those import restrictions were in place.”

Actually, fed cattle prices peaked in Nov. 2003 ($103), dropped to $81 in January and $79 in February. They never got out of the 80s all year (2004) and averaged in the 80s the next two years (Iowa State data, Ia-Mn choice steers).

Part and parcel of Bullard’s thinking is that all segments of the beef industry exist independently of each other, i.e. the price, supply and demand for fed cattle has nothing to do with the price of feeder cattle. And boxed beef prices, what packers can sell beef for, have nothing to do with either. And evidently, the roughly $475/ fed animal that comes from the export market has nothing to do with fed cattle prices because the packers -- the “multinational” packers -- keep all that and none of it filters down to feeders or cow/calf operators.

Now, we’re plenty concerned about the globalization efforts of the UN, the poor performance of the WTO and the WHO and certainly, the World Economic Forum’s plan for the globe.

But we do not agree with Bullard’s guest column in the Western Livestock Journal that the electronic ID proposal is because USDA wants to conform to the wishes of those outfits (“When Will America Start Thinking for Herself Again?” 02/06/23). He lumps the OIE (The World Organization for Animal Health) in with those other outfits and that is erroneous. Actually, the OIE is the international group that kept BSE from totally destroying the global livestock industry and is one outfit that does rely on science to write its rules. Bullard and R-CALF fought the established science on BSE all the way and insisted that the only solution was to close the borders for who knows how many years, we suppose until the many thousands of BSE cows he claimed were hiding in Canada died off.

Liberty and freedom are critical principles to America’s citizens and to our free enterprise system. But the beauty of the system bequeathed us by the Founders provides for the limited government and the least necessary regulation to conduct an orderly system. The kind of animal identification system USDA is calling for has for some years now, become a defense and a tool the cattle industry needs.

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