Local Catholic rancher sues USDA, others over alleged favoritism to large cattle producers
By VERONICA AMBUUL
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.
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.
Reprinted from Colorado Catholic Herald
9-21-12 LETTER: Offended By Callicrate Article
This letter is in response to an article in The Colorado Catholic Herald of Sept. 7, “Catholic Rancher Sues USDA.” I too am a Catholic rancher. I am also a proud and active member of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and an ardent supporter of the beef checkoff and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB).
I am getting very tired of the diocese of which I am an active member doing the public relations work for a man who is advocating a business model that will cause my operation to go broke. I am not the corporate conglomerate that Mr. Callicrate rants and raves about. My family probably has a much smaller operation than Mr. Callicrate. But my opinions on these issues are much different than his, and I am continually berated by him for having them. I don’t believe my opinions conflict with my Catholic faith and Catholic social teaching.
The system Mr. Callicrate advocates will make food much more expensive with no ensuing difference in the quality, taste or safety of the food. You may get emotional about these issues, but the facts are the facts. The poor will have a harder time affording food under the system Mr. Callicrate advocates, and there will be no change in the living standard for those producing the food, processing the food, or in the humane manner in which the food animals are taken care of. Just compare the cost of the same cut of meat. I think Mr. Callicrate has an intriguing business model and has a good chance of making a go at it. I wish him well and hope he has much success. However, I get really irritated when he attempts to make his model work by making unfounded statements about his competition, and I find it very troubling that the Herald has become his mouthpiece.
One of the Ten Commandments is that you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. I don’t like being accused of being a dupe for “corporate conglomerates” when I volunteer for NCBA and CBB. They are both ethical and open organizations in which every member has a chance to have his or her say. Just because you disagree with the policy openly discussed in open meetings does not mean it is underhanded or wrong.
I think the policies of these organizations have the best chance of sustaining family farms and ranches without government assistance or protection while keeping food cheap and plentiful. They are not organizations of fat cats sitting in a room smoking cigars and looking at ways to put more small guys out of business. There are an untold number of Catholic ranchers across this nation — and in this diocese — who feel the same way I do. I don’t think the Herald should be picking sides in a discussion that really has no connection to Catholicism or Catholic teaching. Blind advocacy has gotten the church in trouble before.
I am not trying to offend anyone by pointing these things out, but it gets old to be unjustly accused by Mr. Callicrate, and I have been offended by these articles many times in the past.
St. Augustine Parish
Reprinted from Colorado Catholic Herald
10-02-12 Response to “Offended By Callicrate Article”
I’m sorry R.J. Jolly was offended by the Catholic Herald’s reporting of my lawsuit against the Secretary of Agriculture. I would think that Mr. Jolly would care about the misuse of hundreds of thousands of Beef Checkoff dollars by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), detailed in a 2010 compliance review. This illegal misuse and diversion of funds is a violation of the Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985. A USDA Office of Inspector General Report is due out soon which should shed more light on the issue.
Diverting dollars from research and promotion to lobbying is illegal under the law. My lawsuit simply asks the Secretary of Agriculture to do his job of oversight and stop NCBA from using Checkoff dollars to promote their political agenda. The goal of the litigation is to make the beef checkoff work as intended, not eliminate it. Secretary Vilsack needs to understand that the NCBA is not an organization representing grass roots farmers and ranchers, but a political arm of the industrial meat cartel, including Tyson, JBS Swift, Cargill and National Beef.
Contrary to what Mr. Jolly says, it is clear that the NCBA is not ethical and is certainly not open. Ask R-CALF, our nation’s largest organization representing strictly the interests of cattle producers. Their representative, Joel Gill, was physically barred from entering what should have been an open meeting concerning the beef checkoff. Most agree that NCBA is in bed with and controlled by the big meat packers. At best, NCBA’s membership now represents less than 3% of U.S. producers, yet NCBA pays around 70% of their bills from the nearly $80 million dollar producer funded beef checkoff.
In the last 30 years, the meat monopoly has eliminated 42% of cattle producers (1,000 ranchers per month have gone out of business), 90% of hog producers and over 80% of dairy farmers. There are essentially no independent chicken farmers of any scale left.
Saint Paul advocated: “The husbandman that laboreth must be the first partaker of the fruits,” not a slave to a corporate master. NCBA’s corporate model of extraction threatens all people’s ability to feed themselves as independent family farm and ranch stewards leave the land. The economic and war refugees that process Mr. Jolly’s and our nation’s cattle herd, stand shoulder to shoulder on the fast moving and dangerous lines of our big slaughter houses where livestock, workers and producers are treated as a cost to be reduced. Workers are vulnerable, in a strange land, unable to communicate and unskilled. Like many of the costs of big meat packing, labor costs are externalized. Workers are paid below living wages for doing dangerous jobs and thrown away like used rags when they complain, are injured, or are just worn out.
How can increasing competition in the marketplace, and income at the farm and ranch gate cause Mr. Jolly to go broke? The opposite should occur. If the Jolly ranch and others prosper, so does the community.
Reprinted from Colorado Catholic Herald