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Opinion: When we are our own worst enemy


On more than one occasion, I have been asked, “What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the beef industry?” And on more than one occasion, my answer has been — ourselves.

I answer that way because, for a long time, there has been this disconnect among cattlemen and women. Any time we do not agree on an issue, instead of having constructive, meaningful conversations (you know, the kind that result in actual solutions) it would appear as though all we can do is argue about whatever the issue may be. And now, with the help of social media, those arguments have been amplified to an entirely new level.

Can I just say — I am sick of it.

It makes me sick to my stomach to watch us bickering, broad-brush painting, finger-pointing, and being just plain disrespectful to one another. I mean, I get it — the ins and outs of raising cattle are abundant and complicated.

There are a plethora of methods, techniques, and issues — all with facts, figures, and statistics to back them up. We are not all always going to interpret all of that information in the same way. And, we’re dang sure not going to agree on every…single…thing.

The good news is that we don’t have to. Life would be boring if we all thought and operated in the same way. But, we also don’t have to act like belligerent fools when it comes to those hot-topic issues that really do have the potential to make or break us.

As of late, I see a lot of that type of behavior in some way, shape, or form almost every time I open my social media feeds. I see a lot of back and forth, blaming the repeal of this mandate or the actions of that packer for our problems. I read comments disputing what the numbers actually mean and which industry organization really has our best interests at heart. And I get it. I really do.

We’re talking about our livelihoods, something we pour our blood, sweat, and tears into — emotions are bound to run high. But, at the end of the day, none of that changes the fact that our product is beef. And our consumer is the mom at the meat counter trying to decide which protein to feed her family; the college student looking to feed themselves on a college student’s budget, which likely isn’t much; or any other meat-consuming citizen in this country, and sometimes, abroad.

Image courtesy of Billy Gast, Flickr

It matters not if you are a seed stock producer, commercial cow-calf operation, a backgrounder, feeder, packer, retailer, a restaurateur, or some other step that I don’t even know about — when it comes to beef, our common denominator and the tie that binds is our consumer.

Whether we like it or not — that’s just the truth.

And since that’s the truth, shouldn’t we be focusing on that common denominator more than mudslinging, fighting amongst ourselves, and playing the blame game? While those methods may be entertaining pastimes (especially these days with social media) they are not what I would call productive problem solving techniques. Not to mention how all of that bickering looks to our consumers as they scroll through their newsfeeds and see us arguing. I mean, really, how are they supposed to trust us and feel confident in the beef we produce when we can’t even be respectful to each other?

Am I proud of the beef we raise here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.? No doubt, we raise the very best beef hands down.

Am I elated by the prices we’re currently receiving in return of all of our hard work? Absolutely not.

Do I think our consumers deserve better labeling on the beef in the meat case? You bet I do!

Am I 100 percent convinced that we’re doing the very best we can to promote our beef? I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t always room for improvement.

Do I want more government oversight and regulations? That would be a big NO.

But you know what, folks? None of these issues are going to solve themselves. And they certainly aren’t going to be solved (without the government’s overreaching hand) if we can’t put our differences aside, come together as a beef community (that means all of us — ranchers, backgrounders, feeders, packers, retailers, and restaurateurs), have some constructive conversations, and come up with some solid solutions that truly benefit consumers. Because when our consumer benefits, we benefit.

Now, some of those solutions may come easy. Others may require some hard work and investment of the monetary nature. But, since when have we ever been afraid of a little hard work? And, if we truly have consumer’s best interests at heart, then that investment of the monetary nature shouldn’t be anything to balk at, right?

Part of what makes this business of beef so great and so maddening all at the same time is that we are segmented. Very few of us have the capabilities — or let’s face it, the desire — to raise and market our beef from pasture to plate without a little help along the way. The majority of us simply could not operate without the next step. The next step couldn’t operate without us. And none of us could operate without the folks who eat beef.

I repeat, none of us could operate without the folks who eat beef.

So, instead of continuing on down this path of disrespectful self-destruction, how about we shift our focus from our differences to the one thing we all have in common: our consumer.

Let’s come together as a beef community. Let’s have the tough conversations, but have them respectfully. Let’s use those conversations to come up with real solutions to our problems that honestly and truly benefit consumers and earn their unwavering trust and confidence in the beef we raise. And if you are thinking this can’t be done, let me leave you with this final thought:

“If you can’t think of anything nice to say, you’re not thinking hard enough.” — Kid President

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