In one of his first meetings with a group from the meat industry, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sat down with members of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association last week to discuss mandatory country-of-origin labeling, national animal identification, trade and other issues. USCA representatives came away impressed, they say.

"We were really pleased. He’s got a pretty good handle on the issues that worry our members," Jess Peterson, the organization’s director of government affairs, told MEATPOULTRY.com.

Vilsack told the group, which represents cow-calf operators and independent feedlots, that he continues to support COOL but promised to implement the controversial program properly. Concerning mandatory animal ID, which USCA opposes, Vilsack "told us he would take a go-slow approach. That’s something our members can support," Peterson said.

"There are so many dynamics involved in animal ID. The Secretary said he wanted to have input from all groups. In the past that’s been of some concern to our members, who have thought that USDA wasn’t hearing from everyone," Peterson noted, who added that the USCA members at the meeting also told Vilsack they were worried that USDA hasn’t properly administered the Packers & Stockyards Act to protect cattlemen from manipulated pricing.

USCA overlaps with the larger National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in some areas and differs with NCBA, which also met with the Secretary last week, in others. On issues of high interest to livestock producers such as COOL and animal ID, the groups tend to agree. Both organizations are actively lobbying on Capitol Hill against the bill jointly proposed last month by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock, in the company of several other agricultural groups that oppose the legislation.

Peterson told MEATPOULTRY.com Vilsack emphasized to USCA that agriculture as a whole needs to make its case better to the American public.

"He said, ‘We’ve got to do a better job telling our story. There’s a lot of misinformation out there,’" commented the USCA executive. "He told us a story about going to a meeting at the White House recently and someone said, ‘Now just what are you secretary of?’, and Vilsack said, ‘I’m the Secretary in that big building over there on the Mall, the really huge building.’ He made the point to us that a lot of people just don’t understand agriculture and that’s something we can do something about. I think he really wants to help us get rid of the misinformation that’s out there, and we were really happy to hear that he does."

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