As the domestic cattle industry continues making big strides to improve animal welfare and sustainable production practices, there’s frustration among some cattle producers that more isn’t being done to tell that story or to differentiate what they produce from imports.

As the domestic cattle industry continues making big strides to improve animal welfare and sustainable production practices, there’s frustration among some cattle producers that more isn’t being done to tell that story or to differentiate what they produce from imports.

“It’s hard to have optimism after we go through a poor time in the market, but I guess what I’m optimistic about is that beef is still the best protein product available to consumers, and I really feel like they know it,” said Scott Foote, a large feedyard operator in Western Kansas and Nebraska. “I want us to do a better job of advertising and letting our consumers know we’re doing things right and making a really high quality, great tasting product right here in the middle of the country.”

Foote shared his views while attending the annual convention of the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association, where signs, banners and license tags promoted the slogan, Demand USA Beef, in eye-catching red-white-and-blue lettering.

The signage earned a shout-out from Dan Thomson, a Kansas State University veterinarian and popular beef quality assurance educator, who was at the convention in Newton, Kansas, to give a presentation on fat cattle transportation and handling.

“I’m a global team leader for McDonald's, and one thing I tell them, if you’re going to make demands of us (in the U.S.) on things like antibiotics and on what we can and cannot use, and then import Mexican beef, I have a real problem with that,” he told the audience. “And I’m very vocal about it.”

Based at Hoxie, Kansas, Foote’s feeding operation has grown into one of the country’s 10 largest, with capacity for around 230,000 head, during what has been an exceptionally challenging era in the cattle feeding business.

“I want to get the information out to consumers to tell them that this is a great product, and as a consumer you don’t have to go looking at these organic or GMO-free or grass-fed programs that usually end up being imported beef,” he said. “A lot of times the reason the meat qualifies for these programs is because no one’s been taking care of the animals and managing them like we do here.”

He added, “I wish the beef check-off could be more specific about advertising our beef that we feed right here in the United States and let people know what a great product we have.”

Another cattle feeder attending the meeting, Perry Owens, serves on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, which oversees the check-off. Owens, who manages Ottawa County Feeders at Minneapolis, Kansas, emphasized the way the check-off program is set up, with beef importers paying into the fund, prevents it from being used to promote U.S. beef. For that, producers need a different branding option.

“We had it, and we lost it,” he said.

Owens was referring to mandatory country-of-origin labeling, which has long been controversial in the beef industry. It took years to enact the law and in February it was repealed after Canada and Mexico successfully challenged it through the World Trade Organization.

Owens said the origin labels on retail packaging weren’t all that prominent or easy to read but still provided important information on where the meat was born, raised and processed.

With a major presidential election looming just days away, Foote and Owens both said they were hoping for a surprise Trump victory, believing such an upset would bring improvements to the economy, a reduction in regulation and a crackdown on trade policies friendly to foreign beef and other imported products.

The benefit of future trade agreements, most notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is an issue that is dividing the industry along the same lines as mandatory COOL once did.

“Theoretically it should be good for the cattle industry, but look at what NAFTA’s done to us,” Owens said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement promoted and signed by former President Bill Clinton 23 years ago. “All of our parts now are made somewhere else. In agriculture, we can’t survive without a strong manufacturing sector.”