cattlemen can produce grain-fed, high quality beef better than anyone else in the world according to Jim McAdams, National Cattlemen's Beef Association president. "It's unique and consumers are willing to pay for it," he told cattlemen during a meeting hosted by the Northern Oahe Cattlemen's Association Nov. 4 in Mobridge, South Dakota.
McAdams, a fourth generation Texas rancher, fielded questions about current beef industry issues and also updated the membership on NCBA business.
Beef consumption was up again in 2004, McAdams says, increasing by one pound consumed per capita. "We had record beef supply and record high price last year," he says. "Americans are consuming more beef while paying more for it.
"We need to produce beef and protein with the most value and do it the most efficiently. We just need to keep enhancing that and focusing on that," he adds.
McAdams also addressed NCBA's position on current issues including country-of-origin labeling, a national identification program for livestock, and international trade agreements. In addressing NCBA's position on COOL, McAdams says, "We all agree there's value in being able to identify country of origin. It's not that NCBA opposes mandatory COOL."
He explains that NCBA contends that COOL is not a food safety issues, as the FDA regulates that, but a marketing issue. NCBA opposed the law because it only includes retail products. Food service and poultry are not included in the law. "Less than five percent of retail products covered will be imported products," he says. "It was full of unintended consequences and we opposed it."
Other NCBA concerns with the law include the detailed paperwork and the opportunity for other countries to get a foothold marketing "name brand" beef while all the United States beef is categorized together.
"We don't want a mandated, unfunded government program," he says and the NCBA membership voted to take this position.
McAdams also outlined the work NCBA is doing to develop a National Animal Identification System. "We are trying to be the impetus to get it going so the government won't have to step in and say, 'This is the way it's going to be,'" he says.
Current efforts are focused on developing a national database implementation strategy and assembling an independent, multi-species, non-profit consortium to administer the program. "We get a lot of feedback that we're going too fast," McAdams says. NCBA is working to develop the ground rules for the consortium by following minimum government standards and allowing the market place to implement the rest. "We're trying to birth this thing and put it up for adoption," he says. "If it's not successful, we'll have answered a lot of questions toward implementing the mandatory program."
McAdams was also questioned about foreign trade issues by producers. Concerns that free trade agreements are more harmful than helpful to producers were addressed by him. "With any international trade agreement, there's going to be winners and losers," McAdams says.
The recent Central America Free Trade Agreement allows the United States to export beef to these countries without paying 40% tariffs. Those countries were already sending beef to the United States free of tariffs. "This is a winner for cattle. These countries won't produce more beef than they can consume," he says.
Since the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented, the income per capita and also the beef consumption per capita have doubled in Mexico making them one of the biggest export markets for beef.
"If we can't have fair international trade, we won't have international trade," he says. "We have seen that we can benefit from these trade agreements if implemented the right way."
Focusing on increasing beef's market share as well as being more involved in fair international trade based on fair rules, are two of the areas NCBA recently set as priorities during a recent long-range planning meeting.