Those who met for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) meeting in Reno this summer reviewed a number of critical industry topics.

Chase DeCoite, NCBA director of animal health and food safety policy, discussed the monitoring of a proposed USDA rule that will impact traceability in the cattle industry.

“NCBA is actively watching the rule-making process by USDA on mandatory electronic ID,” he said. “The agency is moving toward a proposed rulemaking likely by the end of the year that would transition the industry from the mandatory ID rules the agency currently has in place to an electronic ID standard.”

One of the reasons for the urgency of this action is to decrease the time for traceback in the event of a disease outbreak. NCBA grassroots policy supports the move toward electronic ID to ensure the industry is prepared to respond quickly and accurately with the least amount of impact on producers in the event of an outbreak.

“We will look for that rule if it comes out as we expect it to, which would transition tags to an electronic ID system,” said DeCoite. “We support that and look forward to engaging with the agency to make sure the proposed rule is reflective of the needs and asks of the cattle industry in having an effective disease traceability program.”

Earlier this year, NCBA President Don Schiefelbein appointed an NCBA traceability working group. “That work … allowed all of NCBA’s state affiliates to appoint members to the working group so the policies would reflect membership and the needs of cattle producers in all regions and all production methods,” DeCoite said. “That group is working toward delivering a report at our cattle industry convention in New Orleans in February with some goals for the industry to achieve for progress on disease traceability.”

Although producers have been concerned about traceability in the past, DeCoite explained that the effort is a safeguard for the beef industry to make sure there’s an effective and understandable traceability system in place. Such a program helps producers quickly understand potential impacts to their herd and what disease signs to look for. Traceability also ensures producers who are not affected by an outbreak can get back to commerce as quickly as possible and remain a viable business.

NCBA Environmental Counsel Mary-Thomas Hart discussed the Food and Energy Security Act introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-SD). “NCBA is excited about the bill, which is introduced to send an important message to the Biden Administration,” she said. “They need clear indication from Congress before they take action. We already saw the Supreme Court earlier this year send that message to the administration and now to see that message from Congress is really exciting.” Hart added that the bill is specifically related to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed rule-making that would mandate greenhouse gas emissions reporting from publicly traded companies.

Hart said the SEC was designed to regulate publicly traded companies and enforce rules against market manipulation. “In recent years, we’ve seen efforts from the SEC to expand their authority beyond publicly traded companies up and down the supply chain,” she said. “This greenhouse gas reporting mandate is the latest example and could potentially subject farmers and ranchers to unnecessary, inaccurate reporting requirements.”

The NCBA, their state affiliates and other national ag groups submitted comments to the SEC earlier this year. The comment period is now closed and the SEC is considering the rule proposal. “We expect to see a finalized rule in some form by the end of the year,” said Hart. “It’s unclear if the final rule will look exactly like the proposal so we’re waiting to see.”

This autumn, two major cases will be presented before the Supreme Court: WOTUS (Waters of the U.S.) and California’s Prop 12. Hart said the first case for the Supreme Court in October is Sackett vs. EPA, and it will mark the fourth time the Supreme Court has considered the definition of WOTUS. “They’re going to consider which test the EPA needs to use to craft a rule,” she said. “Part of the struggle with the last two definitions of WOTUS from EPA is ‘which test from the Supreme Court should they follow?’ Hopefully this case will answer that question.”

After the Sackett case, the Court will consider Prop 12, which mandates gestation crate sizes for hogs and the pork sold in that state. “The problem with that state rule is that there are no large-scale pork operations in California, so the state is essentially regulating activity that’s wholly outside of its state borders,” said Hart. “That brings up a lot of questions related to the Interstate Commerce Clause and how far states’ rights stretch.”

Hart said Prop 12 is a slippery slope. Although the case is about gestation crates, future regulations could potentially dictate veal calf housing, how much space cattle need in a feed yard pen or how many acres of grass a cow needs – all of which are best determined by producers on an on-farm basis. “No state, and certainly not the federal government, have the knowledge and technical expertise to set one-size-fits-all to apply to an entire industry,” said Hart.

Methane is another hot topic – one that could affect all producers. In the 2021 Supreme Court decision West Virginia vs. EPA, the Court held that the EPA does not have the authority under the Clean Air Act to write the regulations that EPA called the Clean Power Plan, which was a wholly new consideration of the Clean Air Act and required an entire industry to shift from coal-fired power plants to renewable energy. “That’s going to set important precedent for future administrative action, especially related to climate,” said Hart. “We need to see clear language from Congress that requires the agencies to act together instead of the agencies acting unilaterally.”

Hart said the message from NCBA and from American cattle production is that the U.S. beef industry has mastered the art of sustainable beef production by maximizing animal health, production efficiency, carbon sequestration potential, natural water filtration and wildlife habitat. “We are the blueprint for the rest of the world,” she said. “We need to make sure producers have the freedom and resources to do that effectively.”

She added that the issue will be a balance between a limited regulatory state that allows producers to manage land effectively through voluntary conservation, receiving technical assistance and cost-share dollars to implement practices that will go beyond regulatory efforts.

by Sally Colby