Cattlemen: Nebraska is key in battles with meatpackers

Cattlemen: Nebraska is key in battles with meatpackers
  George Lauby (North Platte Bulletin)

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April 2 — Nebraska is a key state in a fierce struggle for control of the American live cattle industry, and there are no gray lines, five men involved in the Pickett v. IBP antitrust case said in North Platte Friday.

“What we do will determine if we have a future in the cattle industry,” rancher and cattle feeder Bob Rothwell of Hyannis told cattle producers, businessmen and reporters at a press conference hosted by the North Platte Bulletin.

Rothwell and four other men made statments and fielded questions for nearly two-and-a-half hours.

Rothwell is one of six cattlemen who were plaintiffs in the Pickett v. IBP lawsuit in January and February in U.S. District Court in Montgomery, Ala. Before reaching trial, the lawsuit was in litigation for eight years. The trial ended after a month of testimony and five days of jury deliberations.

The jury found IBP manipulated prices through the use of forward price contracts, which are agreements to buy cattle with “the price-to-be-set-later,” said Steve Cady, executive director of the Lincoln-based Organization for Competitive Markets.

Cady said the Pickett v. Tyson verdict would only change those kind of cattle sales arrangments, not others such as the Nebraska Corn Fed Beef program.

Several Nebraska cattlemen testified during the Pickett v. Tyson trial, and all of them testified for the plaintiffs, Cherry County rancher Chris Abbott said.

Although Rothwell and others thought for several years that captive supplies of cattle were lowering cattle prices, they were more convinced than ever after seeing evidence in the courtroom.

“They had the best opportunity to hear the best arguments, they had the best attorneys under the best of conditions, and the jury determined they had been wrecking financial damage to the beef markets,” agreed Bill Bullard of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, a Montana-based ranchers advocacy group.

Rothwell said it will probably require a court-ordered injunction to force meatpackers to stop using forward price contracts.

That could take several months, even a year or two, Cady said.

The cattlemen said they resorted to legal action because their traditional political action group, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, is deferring to meatpackers’ interests instead of asserting cattlemen’s interests when it comes to lawmaking, Rothwell said.

Also, the United States Department of Agriculture is not enforcing the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act, the law by which Tyson was tried, Bullard said.

The men said the Pickett v. IBP verdict gives them a firm base to continue their legal action, and the anti-trust issue is gaining interest in Congress. Also, other court cases are underway against Swift and Excel, two of the nation’s four meatpackers that buy 80 percent of the cattle in the United States.

The plaintiffs said they would continue pressing their case until meatpacking companies stop using forward price contracts. Ultimately, who will own farms and ranches in the years to come is at issue.

Abbott said they have a place to stand now.

“It took us eight years to get in the ball game,” he said. “With this verdict we are on first base.”


The North Platte Bulletin – Published 4/3/2004
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