The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) President Jon Wooster, San Lucas, Calif., said today that USCA intends to hit the ground running when the second session of the 110th Congress reconvenes on January 3, 2008.

"USCA will aggressively seek policy changes in Washington, DC that will make a difference to producers’ bottom line," Wooster stated. "The stage is set for many positive things to occur but we must be vigilantly engaged in the process. USCA’s Director of Government Affairs, Jess Peterson, is working virtually night and day on Capitol Hill to ensure that producers have a strong voice. We have a game plan to move forward on key issues, we have a board and membership that’s fully engaged in all aspects of policy-making and we look forward to the many opportunities the second congressional session presents us with."

Fresh from its recently concluded first annual membership meeting, held in Las Vegas, Nev., where the organization’s board of directors affirmed policy on issues, USCA mailed out official policy ballots to its members at the end of December.

Policy highlights include beef checkoff reform; opposing a mandatory national animal identification system; implementation of country of origin labeling (COOL); shepherding the 2007 Farm Bill through the conference process to include the Livestock Title; opposing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed plan to regionalize Argentina for foot and mouth disease; protecting producers’ rights with regard to the transport and slaughter of horses; and advocating for a USA-certified natural beef cattle program.

USCA is a one-member, one-vote organization that allows cattle producing members to vote on policy by mail-in ballot. "I urge USCA members to return ballots by January 21," said Wooster. "The policies adopted by the membership are the board’s blueprint for action, so it is very important that members spend a few minutes completing ballots and mail them back to USCA."

In recent months, the USCA board of directors has undertaken a national campaign seeking reform of the national mandatory beef checkoff that would allow a portion of the funds collected under the program to exclusively promote USA beef. Ambiguous language in the current Beef Act has precluded the program from promoting beef from a specific country. USCA has formally requested clarification of the language from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Jim Hanna, USCA Director Region VII and Checkoff Committee Chairman, says the organization will firmly oppose any increase in the current $1 per head checkoff assessment until the enhancements outlined in USCA policies have been adopted. "Since the beef checkoff program was implemented in the 1980's, the Beef Act has not been amended to meet the needs of an evolving industry," he noted. "A national survey conducted as the result of a legal challenge to the mandatory program shows that while producers support the program in theory, they want meaningful changes that put greater control over the program directly into the hands of the stakeholders who foot the bills. In fact, the survey showed that an overwhelming majority – 92 percent - of producers want at least a portion of the funds collected dedicated to promoting domestic product. USCA intends to shepherd this movement through Congress."

USCA policy also calls for a clear and distinct separation between the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the majority contractor for checkoff funds, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, which, together with USDA, provides oversight of the checkoff program, and the Federation of State Beef Councils, the entities responsible for collecting beef checkoff funds at the state level.

"The current national beef checkoff system of governance and contracting is cumbersome, complicated and excludes a large portion of U.S. cattle producers," stated Hanna. "The changes being sought by USCA are simple fixes that will restore producer faith and trust in the entire program."

In the international trade arena, USCA will aggressively oppose USDA’s plan to regionalize Argentina for foot and mouth disease and will advocate that livestock be removed from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s J-List.

USCA’s International Trade Committee Chairman and Director Region IV Doug Zalesky, Hesperus, Colo., said USDA’s proposal to regionalize Argentina for animal disease weakens U.S. animal health standards. "U.S. trade policy must be built on protecting the health of U.S. livestock, and should never be based on managing a disease once it arrives in the country," said Zalesky. "The Department of Agriculture’s proposed policy change to allow regionalization of foreign nations with animal disease problems sets a dangerous precedent. Defeating this proposal will be a priority for USCA that will we pursue aggressively, using any means possible to protect U.S. cattle producers and the U.S. cattle herd."

Allan Sents, USCA Director Region VIII and Marketing Committee Chairman, Marquette, KS forecasted a tough battle to preserve competition reform measures in the 2007 Farm Bill. "The opposition has made clear their intent to relentlessly pressure conferees to strip the ban on packer ownership from the bill," noted Sents. "The powerful meat packing lobby will pull out all the stops to strip this provision. Our success in retaining amendments like the packer ownership ban will depend largely on dispelling the myths and misinformation generated by the opposition and it will take a unified effort on the part of independent livestock producers to push back. USCA will lead the charge to make this happen for U.S. ranchers."

To view USCA’s policies visit www.uscattlemen.org. Established in March 2007, USCA is committed to assembling a team to concentrate efforts in Washington, DC to enhance and expand the cattle industry’s voice on Capitol Hill. For more information visit www.uscattlemen.org.