Aug 17, 2012

Here we go again

Who involved in agriculture, and of sound mind, would get involved with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)? The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM)—that’s who. Two weeks ago, OCM, teaming up with HSUS, filed suit in Kansas district court against USDA. They are seeking a court order to prohibit the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) from getting any more beef checkoff dollars because they feel NCBA is using the money to lobby, which is prohibited by the act and the order for the beef checkoff.

Again, it’s the same target and the same people creating all the fuss. This time, Mike Callicrate, vice president of OCM, is pushing the issue. The irony is that they had to engage HSUS to help them fund the suit. I’ve always seen OCM as a group that has tried to work for agriculture, and it just seems bizarre that they would team up with HSUS.

It’s no secret that HSUS has a dislike for animal agriculture and has been annoying, trying to use legislative tactics to change the way animal agriculture operates. And you would have to think that in asking HSUS for help, they are going to want something in return.

Without the checkoff, NCBA would have to let go of much of their staff and may not be as effective fighting some of these legislative issues or some of their research projects. NCBA’s accounting system keeps close track of policy dollars and checkoff dollars, and after the last little battle, they have tried to improve their accounting system for checkoff dollars.

When NCBA’s J.D. Alexander heard the news, I would bet he was pretty hot. In NCBA’s press release, he expressed disgust after hearing OCM’s announcement that they have formed a partnership with HSUS to destroy more than 25 years of market development and consumer demand built by the Beef Checkoff Program.

OCM said their lawsuit is aimed at USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), and the Beef Promotion Operating Committee. OCM’s first and only president, Fred Stokes, said during a press briefing that HSUS is helping fund its efforts to file the lawsuit. OCM claims to advocate for a fair, competitive agricultural market place; however, in doing so, it partnered with an organization known for its anti-agriculture agenda.

“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.

Stokes made the comment that “OCM and every cowboy out there owes a deep gratitude to the Humane Society of the United States.” I’m not sure what he means by that, but I’m sure he’s dead wrong about how many cowboys will be sending HSUS thank you notes.

NCBA did have a little problem two years ago when a USDA audit found that some funds were misclassified. It was common for NCBA and CBB to settle up after their audits and get the funds in the right accounts. But a somewhat rogue board of directors was bent on ending NCBA’s relationship with CBB, which caused a big ruckus. It took a year and a lot of meetings and money to settle the dispute with CBB.

Callicrate, who initiated the suit, contends that NCBA is primarily a lobbying organization and has used beef checkoff funds to take stands against country of origin labeling, mandatory price reporting, meat packer ownership of cattle and control of livestock on behalf of the interests of industrialized agriculture, rather than cattle producers and family farms. Callicrate has been involved in a multitude of packer lawsuits for quite some time.

I would also have to speculate that former Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) administrator Dudley Butler is behind this suit. Butler left or was released from USDA over the GIPSA proposed rule changes that were such a hot issue last year. Butler was also a founding member of OCM. I would have to think he has an ax to grind with NCBA, and all these guys know the only way to hurt NCBA is to separate them from the checkoff dollars. Many of these anti NCBA folks just won’t give up on the beef checkoff. The beef checkoff has done a lot of good and is supported by 75 percent of the nation’s cattlemen, but it has also been very divisive, in an industry that needs to work together. — PETE CROW