I Hope I Hear Bugles Playing Bonaparteís Retreat

From the Inside Lookin' Out - Madeline Cassidy on Bonaparte's Retreat

June 2, 2004

By Madeline Cassidy 


Itís so politically suicidal that itís hard to believe, but believe me itís true: the National Cattlemenís Beef Association (NCBA) is now attacking consumer groups.

On May 26, in an e-mail member action alert, the primary contractor for the $50 million per fiscal year beef checkoff labeled the largest consumer organizations in America as "powerful anti-beef groups willing to destroy consumer confidence to achieve partisan political gains."

American cattle producers, who are dependent upon the appetite and approval of U.S. consumers, and who pay the beef checkoff, should be outraged.

In the same action alert, NCBA attacked R-CALF USA, calling the organizationís willingness to work with consumer groups "shocking".

Let me get this straight: Is there something shameful about a cattlemenís group making friends with millions of American consumers through their representative organizations?

The foundation of business and economic models that have revolutionized America are based on the principle that the customer is always right and that businesses must strive to meet the demands of those customers.

Whatís shameful is biting the hand that feeds you.

The consumer groups [that] NCBA has attacked represent millions of Americans.

Their achievements are remarkable in terms of providing consumers with articulate voices in policy decisions that affect their lives.

The Consumerís Union (which publishes the magazine Consumer Reports), the Consumer Federation of America and Public Citizen have worked tirelessly for decades to protect the safety and pocketbooks of consumers.

Through their advocacy in Congress, the Executive Branch and through the Judiciary, they have succeeded in achieving clean air and clean water standards; advocated for and won the establishment of the Consumer Product Safety Commission; won the ban on cancer-causing urea formaldehydes used in household insulation; forced the removal of lead from paints; saw to it that car seats for children were tested and developed; won an FDA ban on red dye #2; forced auto makers to restructure certain vehicles that exploded upon rear impact; and played key roles in passage of new auto and truck safety laws requiring air bags and head injury protections. They've worked on campaign finance reform; safety in the workplace; environmental health; insurance and loans; airline safety standards; and, of course, food safety. The list of their consumer protection achievements is vast and laudable.

My favorite Republican Senator from Arizona, John McCain said of Public Citizen: "PC has been a powerful and persistent voice for cleaning up our campaign finance system which has corrupted our legislative process and distorted government policies. The group continues to fight for average citizens whose voices are muted by the monied special interests."

Would NCBA have us believe these consumer groups are the "bad guys"? Nowhere on these organizationsí web sites can one find anything remotely related to "anti-beef".

In fact, their public statements about food safety reflect support for American food producers.

In a bit of hypocrisy however, on the NCBA web site you'll find a statement that indicates the beef industry is "consumer driven; producer directed".

The consumer groupsí and R-CALF USAís requests of the Bush Administration during their joint press conference on Wednesday, May 26 seem quite reasonable to consumers like me.

They want all Canadian cattle currently in the U.S. identified and tracked through the human food chain; they asked USDA to hold a series of public meetings nationwide to sample what grassroots producers and consumers think about the BSE issue.

They've asked the White House to appoint the Institute of Medicine or the National Academy of Sciences to fully assess the risks associated with importing cattle and beef from Canada before reinstating imports, which would provide every side involved with the least-biased research available today on the subject.

As an American consumer, I'm pleased to see some positive, proactive action taken. I'm not sorry if it ruffles the feathers of the food processing industry and its allies. But, I am tremendously concerned that a national cattlemenís group seeks to discredit and discount the largest consumer groups in the world -- just when the cattle and beef industry need them the most -- while accepting the majority of beef checkoff contracts designed to enhance and promote beef demand, provide for research and assist with consumer education.

Those bugles you hear over the horizon had better be somebody at NCBA signaling retreat because the organization has just jumped into the most ill-advised fight it will ever encounter. A "consumer driven" industry shouldn't spit in the eye of the customer.

Permission to reprint granted.