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Missouri stockyard excludes proponents from labeling briefing

(Friday, March 7, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Jerry Hagstrom, Congress Daily, 03/06/03: A stockyard in Joplin, Mo., has scheduled an information session next Tuesday on the new country-of-origin labeling of red meat law for cow-calf producers, but has not invited its supporters to attend. Instead, it is bringing in the USDA official in charge of implementing the new law, along with officials of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the American Meat Institute, both of which opposed country-of-origin labeling during debate on last year's farm bill. The invitations have led R-CALF USA and the Organization for Competitive Markets, groups that supported including the provision in the farm bill, to charge that NCBA, meat processors and USDA are attempting to organize a repeal effort and to question the propriety of USDA's participation.

"It is unfortunate that USDA would participate in such a one-side and biased informational meeting," R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard said in a telephone interview from his office in Billings, Mont. "It is as if USDA believes U.S. producers should not have all the factual information to make up their own minds, but instead they are dictating to producers what position they want the producers to take." Bullard also said he finds it "odd" that the USDA would participate in a "one-sided" event after Agriculture Secretary Veneman announced Thursday it would hold 12 "listening sessions" to gain "public input" for implementation of the law. Kevin Herglotz, who serves as Veneman's chief of staff, said it is "one thing to respond to credible concerns, but not irresponsible political posturing such as this."

Veneman said last year she did not like the country-of-origin labeling provision, but since then has said repeatedly she will implement the law as written.

A joint release from the Joplin Regional Stockyard, the Missouri Cattlemen's Association and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said the scheduled speakers would include William Sessions, associate deputy administrator for the livestock and seed program of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service; Chandler Keys, NCBA's Washington lobbyist; and officials of AMI and the Excel Corporation [Cargill's meat packing division] .

Steve Owens, owner of the Joplin Regional Stockyard, said in a telephone interview that he considers the session informational, not a debate. Owens said he wants his 20,000 customers "to understand exactly what this country of origin means to them, what extra obligations are going to be put on them." Owens said he did not invite anyone from R-CALF because he did not know any members of that organization, but Bullard said Max Thornsberry, a veterinarian who is president of the Missouri Stockgrowers Association and a R-CALF member, had asked to be included, but was refused.