Local Catholic rancher sues USDA, others over alleged favoritism to large cattle producers

By VERONICA AMBUUL
9/7/2012

COLORADO SPRINGS. Catholic rancher Mike Callicrate, a St. Mary Cathedral parishioner, is the plaintiff in a lawsuit in federal district court in Kansas City against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Cattlemens’ Beef Board (CBB) and other entities. The lawsuit alleges that money collected from cattle ranchers to improve the marketing of beef to U.S. consumers is actually used to lobby for policies harmful to family farmers.

“My money’s being used against me, and I want it to stop,” said Callicrate, who operates the Ranch Foods Direct store and home delivery service in Colorado Springs, on Aug. 15 during an interview on AgriTalk radio.
[audio:http://media.cattlenetwork.com/audio/RobertsOCM.mp3]

The focus of the lawsuit is money raised through the beef checkoff program, which was established in 1986. For every head of cattle brought to market, $1 is paid by the seller to the Beef Industry Council, which in turn goes to the Centennial (Colo.)-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

In his lawsuit, Callicrate claims that the NCBA’s management of checkoff funds has not improved market share for cattle producers, citing a decline in domestic cattle operations. He further alleges that the checkoff program, as it is currently operated, favors large conglomerates at the expense of small, independent cattle ranchers by advocating for “an industrial model of beef production, processing and distribution — harming both producers and consumers.”

Callicrate’s ranching operation, located in St. Francis, Kan., eschews the use of hormones and antibiotics in raising cattle and uses grass feed, as opposed to corn.

According to the NCBA website, the association does not favor any one mode of beef production over another, nor does it take a stand on issues like whether hormone-free beef is healthier.

In his lawsuit, however, Callicrate said that, in practice, the NCBA favors multinational corporations like Cargill, which he described as a monopoly that drives down prices paid to cattle producers.

“They are paying producers less while charging consumers more,” he said during the radio show.

As an example, Callicrate pointed to the recent furor in the media over the use of low-grade beef trimmings, commonly known as “pink slime,” as filler in ground beef. Neither the NCBA nor the USDA has tried to stop the practice, making consumers suspicious of beef, Callicrate said.

“NCBA fought to keep pink slime in hamburgers. That is embarrassing to all of us cattle producers,” he said. “There’s a connection between technology and appetite. When you go too far with technology, you most likely will lose appetite.”

Callicrate also claims that the NCBA is violating federal law that prohibits the use of beef checkoff funds for influencing government policy, and he said he hopes the lawsuit will put an end to the NCBA’s political activism.

Forest Roberts, CEO of the NCBA, told AgriTalk that the lawsuit was a “complete distraction and a waste of time and energy” during an already-difficult time for the beef industry caused by drought conditions. He also questioned the relationship between the Organization for Competitive Markets, of which Callicrate is president, and the Humane Society of the United States, which in the past has been at odds with the cattle industry and is accused by some in the industry of having a goal of stopping the consumption of beef altogether.

However, Callicrate said the Humane Society does not have a vegan or vegetarian agenda and simply wants to improve the way animals are treated.

“I’m in complete alignment with their philosophy that animals should be treated humanely,” Callicrate told AgriTalk during the interview.

Copyright (c) 2012 The Colorado Catholic Herald

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