“I don't know why they call these the dog days of summer,” gasped Hooter, sweat pouring down his face. “Any dog worth throwing a bone to would have more sense than trying to do anything in this heat.”
The air was as still as it was thick with moisture. The only breeze came from Hooter and Charlie as they huffed and puffed, loading some small square bales on the flatbed. Even the Mesquite looked sick.
“It's because of Sirius,” said Charlie.
“Why they call it the dog days of summer. It's because of Sirius.”
“What's satellite radio got to do with it?” wondered Hooter.
“Not the radio company, the star.”
Charlie took a break. “The kids told me a couple of years back. There's a star called Sirius, the dog star. The Romans, Greeks or somebody way back when speculated that the star gave off heat like the sun. When the weather was hottest during the summer that star shined the brightest. So…”
“O.K. I get it,” said Hooter, spitting out a mouthful of dust and kicking the bale into place. “Kind of like raining cats and dogs going back to the toad stranglers they had in London back when that washed dogs and cats down the street gutters.”
Charlie pitched another bale up to Hooter, who was grinning. “Or, kind of like saying you're cool-sure when you're not.”
“Huh? I never heard that one.”
Hooter crawled down from the stack and snagged a paper from his dashboard. “It's not an expression yet, but I'm betting it will be. Taken from the root word, Country of Origin Labeling.” Hooter handed the paper to Charlie. It read:
“These calves were born and raised in _____ the United States _____ Canada _____ Mexico _____Absolutely no idea. Signature_________.”
Requirements are Us
“That's my Country of Origin Labeling verification form that I'm going to get the order buyers or their suppliers to sign when I buy calves. I already talked to Bob over at Apache Feeders and he said he'd accept it on any of the feeders I send him.”
“I heard USDA came out with the rules.”
“Yep. They say an affidavit will do. You've supposedly got to have records to back up the claim—health papers, calving records and whatnot—if they ever get to poking into it. So, I'll ask, they'll tell me, and I'll have this piece of paper.”
Charlie hadn't given the matter much thought. He ran mama cows and then either sold the calves direct or fed them himself. Source was no question, and he had all the records anyone could conceive if they wanted proof.
“I don't get it,” said Charlie. “How's that make things any different than they are today?”
“It doesn't, best as I can tell, other than there's more paper to push around. I'm not saying I want a program where the cattle are tracked individually, with all of the ownership information passed from owner to the next, but it's the only way to know for sure,” said Hooter. “With this, it's just like it's always been, my word.” He climbed back up the stack.
“So, what happens if USDA finds out a calf you said was from here winds up being from somewhere else?” wondered Charlie.
“That's the beauty part. Nobody knows for sure, but I'm guessing they'd have to prove that you knowingly said Mexican or Canadian cattle were of U.S. origin which isn't possible because those calves are branded at the border.”
“Then why do they need a program saying that everything else was born here when it had to be?”
“I don't know, other than saying they were raised here or there. Besides which, unless I miss my guess, if you've got Mexican calves, you're going to try to do everything in your power to preserve their identity and market them that way anyhow.”
“You lost me,” said Charlie, hoisting up another bale.
“What portion of the population, in terms of race, is the fastest growing here in Texas and all across the nation?”
“Bingo. Given a choice, don't you suppose a fair portion of those folks, especially the first-generation ones, would just as soon buy a product made in Mexico as the U.S.? Price being equal, I would if the situation was reversed.”
“But I thought that was one of the reasons for COOL to begin with, that it would add value to U.S. beef?”
“That was one of the arguments in favor of it. You can't really find any information out there saying consumers are willing to pay more for it, though. Plus, with the economy the way it is now, folks are more apt to buy what's cheapest rather than what comes from a particular place or another.”
Charlie was pondering that between bales and wondering how it was he'd gotten from providing some trivia about the dog days of summer to a dissertation on labeling policy from his cousin.
“Well, it it's just an affidavit program, at least it won't cost much,” said Charlie.
“Nope, not much at all,” said Hooter. “Not unless you figure $2.5 billion is more than pocket change.”
“Yep. That's the first year estimate. Right at $212 million after the 10th year. That's according to the summary of economic analysis USDA had to provide.”
“That can't be right. $2.5 billion for a program that doesn't really tell you anything?”
“Yep. That's lock stock and barrel, across all of the commodities covered by the law, not just beef. Keep in mind, none of it has to be labeled going into food service, just retail.”
Seeing the quizzical look on Charlie's face, Hooter added, “You're right. That puts me in mind of another expression, too—Teats on a boar.”