Animal rights group joins with fringe farm group

Aug 17, 2012

“A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.” —Baltasar Gracián

A recent lawsuit has ranchers questioning whether an organization that claims to be one of the beef industries’ champions knows the difference between friends and enemies.

The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) shared its recent partnership with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) during a press release announcing a lawsuit aimed at the Beef Checkoff Program. While the lawsuit in itself is interesting, the partnership has far out-shadowed the details of the suit.

The night prior to the filing of a lawsuit by OCM officer and rancher Mike Callicrate, OCM announced the intentions of the lawsuit seeking an injunction against the beef checkoff. OCM President and Director Fred Stokes stated during a press briefing that HSUS would be helping fund its efforts to file the lawsuit.

The federal lawsuit names the USDA, Secretary of Ag Tom Vilsack, Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion, Beef Promotion Operating Committee and Agricultural Marketing Service as defendants. Callicrate is the sole plaintiff.

The suit seeks to bar USDA from giving any checkoff dollars to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

According to Stokes, HSUS provided much of the legal research that went into the suit and paid for a meeting of independent cattle raisers in Washington, DC, to discuss the action.

During OCM’s news conference, Stokes said his group had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and had turned the information gained from the request over to HSUS. HSUS and their attorneys then convinced Stokes and OCM members to file the lawsuit based on the FOIA information. OCM then persuaded the law firm of Polsenelli Shugart to handle the case on a pro bono basis.

Stokes said, “OCM and every cowboy out there owes a deep gratitude to the Humane Society of the United States.”

OCM claims to advocate for a fair, competitive agricultural marketplace; however, in doing so, it partnered with an organization known for its anti-agriculture agenda, according to NCBA President J.D. Alexander.

Alexander expressed disgust following the lawsuit that he believes is set out to destroy more than 25 years of market development and consumer demand building by the Beef Checkoff Program.

“HSUS is an organization going state by state vowing to end production agriculture by outlawing scientifically validated production practices in animal agriculture. Their efforts put people out of business and often jeopardize the well-being of livestock,” said Alexander.

Alexander, who is also an independent cattle feeder from Pilger, NE, said it is paramount for cattlemen and cattlewomen to know that OCM is working with an extremist animal rights group to disable a program dedicated to building demand for beef.

“Their actions will impact consumers by increasing protein costs at the grocery store. They are no friend to family farmers and ranchers or consumers and will be challenged at every corner by NCBA,” said Alexander. “Animal agriculture is vital to sustaining food production and we will not sit by and allow these organizations to stifle our ability to mitigate hunger and feed people here and abroad.”

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) also pointed out OCM’s error in partnering with HSUS.

“USCA will not support OCM’s willing involvement of HSUS, a known opponent of U.S. ranchers and animal agriculture, in this lawsuit partnership,” said Leo Mc- Donnell, USCA director, Columbus, MT. “We doubt that HSUS has any true concerns about how checkoff dollars are administered and, in fact, if the organization’s long-term goal is to eliminate animal agriculture, then the complete demise of commodity checkoffs supports that plan. While cattle producers have serious concerns about the beef checkoff, these issues would be better handled within the industry and by the industry itself.”

“We are disappointed that OCM has felt the need to work cooperatively with The Humane Society of the United States, an organization that reportedly already faces charges under RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] statutes on racketeering, obstruction of justice and malicious prosecution in a lawsuit brought by Ringling Brothers Circus’ parent company Feld Entertainment, Inc.,” said Jon Wooster, USCA president. “HSUS has been increasingly questioned on their fundraising programs that apparently misrepresent their efforts and accomplishments and we are disappointed than OCM has chosen to align themselves with this group which has certainly demonstrated their animosity to animal agriculture and cost our industry countless dollars.”

Stokes’ beef with NCBA is far from new. In December of 2011, he spoke at the Kansas Farmers Union convention in Topeka.

“They can say we don’t use checkoff money to give to campaign contributions and advocate with it, but the fact of the matter, in my opinion, NCBA exists because of the checkoff,” Stokes said. “They have gone and become a powerful political force, thanks to the checkoff. We have funded our own opposition. There’s some gross, terrible abuses that have occurred.”

Stokes also said the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance “scares me to death.”

“They are putting together a massive fund and putting together a big PR (public relations) company and others to spin this thing and convince the public that they ought to institute the industrial model for agriculture rather than the family farm,” Stokes said. “I see it as a terrible thing that’s going to be perpetrated on the American people if we don’t move pretty soon.”

Stokes is also highly critical of the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration outcomes earlier this year. Stokes told reporters that the Obama administration had “thrown the people under the bus that brung ’em to the dance, in the vain hope of currying favor with some people who are never ever going to favor them in anything.

“It doesn’t make any political sense at all to me.”

In an interview with Brownfield News, HSUS’ Wayne Pacelle said the reason the group supports the lawsuit is because of NCBA’s opposition to the so-called “egg bill” in Congress. “We hope that the cattle industry stays in its lane and doesn’t continue to subvert the work of the egg industry to adopt progressive reforms that are good for the industry and align it better with consumer attitudes,” Pacelle told Brownfield News. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor