Odd Allies Fight for Beef Industry’s Future

Small livestock producers are teaming with an unlikely ally -- the Humane Society -- to battle a beef marketing program they say works against them.

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For every head of cattle sold, a dollar is collected to pay for marketing and other activities to help the beef industry. The beef “checkoff” funds have been collected for the past 26 years.

Most of that money is spent by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

For years, independent cattle raisers have grumbled about how NCBA has spent the beef checkoff money. Now, they are acting.

Attorneys representing a Kansas cattle raiser will file a suit in federal court Friday morning in an attempt to stop the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association from controlling the millions collected each year from cattle raisers.

The suit was aided by the unlikeliest of allies for a group of farmers and ranchers — the Humane Society of the United States.

“We think we have been funding our own misery, and that has to stop,” said Fred Stokes, president of the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), which is holding its annual meeting in Kansas City. OCM has put together a coalition of ranchers, farmers, pro bono attorneys and the Humane Society of the U.S. to oppose how the NCBA has spent the checkoff funding.

Stokes said that there were “blatant abuses we think are offensive” in how the NCBA has spent checkoff funds. The cattlemen here say the NCBA works actively with agriculture giants, such as Monsanto, in ways that make the life of the independent farmer and rancher increasingly harder to maintain.

The particulars of the suit won’t be known until after the suit is filed Friday, but U.S. Department of Agriculture audits have found misuse of funds by the NCBA.

The suit names both the USDA, which must approve expenditures of checkoff funding, and NCBA as defendants. Mike Callicrate, a Kansas cattleman, is the lead plaintiff.

NCBA has controlled almost all the beef checkoff money since the program began 26 years ago, Stokes said, and since then the nation’s cattle herd has dropped to a 60-year low, 40 percent of the nation’s ranches have gone out of business and beef consumption has declined.

The suit asks the court to withhold further checkoff money from the NCBA’s control.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this legal action is the deep involvement of the Humane Society of the U.S. The Humane Society provided much of the legal research that went into the suit and paid for a meeting of independent cattle raisers in Washington, D.C., to discuss the action.

“The Humane Society understood that the family farmer and rancher are kinder to animals than corporate farms,” Stokes said. “They want to be a party to a coalition that wants to see that this little remnant of independent agriculture remains.”

Stokes added, “Every cowboy out there owes a deep debt of gratitude to the Humane Society of the U.S.”





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