Representing the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), beef producer Mike Callicrate appeared on AgriTalk radio Tuesday to discuss the organization’s lawsuit against USDA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, which seeks to end NCBA’s role as a beef checkoff contractor. NCBA’s CEO Forest Roberts provided a response.

In the lawsuit filed on Aug 10 in Kansas City, Callicrate and OCM claim that some of the $200 million NCBA has received over the years as a checkoff contractor has been misspent, and diverted to promote policy rather than research and promotion. They also charge those policies are intended to help large packers and processors at the expense of family farmers and ranchers.

Some of the most interesting discussion related to Callicrate and OCM’s alliance with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which has been widely reported in trade media.

“HSUS came to us knowing our policy of fighting for family farmers and ranchers and a fair income at the farm and ranch gate,” he says. “They said we have some things in common.”

Ninety-five percent of HSUS supporters eat meat.” He adds. “They just don’t want to eat the NCBA’s version of meat . They don’t want to eat meat from these big meatpacking plants with fast chains, with contaminated meat, where workers have to speak 110 different languages, where they are treated as a disposable resource, where they are exploited.

“They don’t like the way animals are treated under the Smithfield-Tyson-JBS-Cargill model of food production. So they said ‘hey, we like the family farm and ranch model, we want to support that, what can we do to help?’  And of course we opened a dialog. We aren’t going to turn them away because someone said one time they are anti animal agriculture. They’ve been called an animal rights group. They are not that, they are an animal welfare group, and I’m in complete alignment with their philosophy that animals should be treated humanely – as well as people.”

Callicrate goes on to say HSUS is working to try to build a humane economy where people are given the opportunity to succeed and to be in business without monopoly power putting them out of business.

“I honestly don’t care where they’ve been. I want to know where they are going, and if they’re there to support me in my effort to reestablish a marketplace that’s fair and just, around family farm and ranch agriculture, then I am willing to work with them. They do not have a vegan agenda, they do not have a vegetarian agenda.”

As for NCBA, Callicrate says his organization has continually fought NCBA on all critical issues that he believes are important, from  COOL, securing borders, mandatory price reporting and World Trade Organization issues that threaten family farmers and ranchers. “NCBA lands on the other side of the issues, fighting us in Congress, fighting us in our state legislatures and doing it with our checkoff money.”

The lawsuit, he adds, is not seeking damages, but rather demands a permanent injunction to separate NCBA from checkoff funds. NCBA can collect money from those they represent, Callicrate contends, naming big packers, retailers, food service that he says are opposed to family farmers.

Callicrate also contends that beef producers have lost market share, beef demand and their share of consumer dollars spent on beef under NCBA’s management of checkoff dollars. He says the Secretary of Agriculture should have eliminated NCBA as a checkoff contractor when a review from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found NCBA had misappropriated some checkoff dollars.

Representing NCBA, Forrest Roberts expressed extreme disappointment over the lawsuit. Referring to the OIG review, which was conducted two years ago, he points out that the discrepancies were completely resolved to the satisfaction of the USDA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. He also expressed total confidence in processes the organization has put in place to ensure the separation of checkoff dollars and membership funds which can be used for policy-related activities, a separation which he says the organization takes very seriously.

It is absolutely incorrect, Roberts says, that NCBA uses checkoff money to fund policies that help large operations at expense of small farmers and ranchers, adding that they have ability to demonstrate the accusation is untrue.

Roberts says the lawsuit comes at a time of great challenges, such as the drought and its impacts on markets, and of great opportunities such as building global demand for U.S. beef. He calls the action a distraction, “but we are going to face it straight up.”

He also questions the integrity of OCM in forming an alliance with none other than HSUS, which he says is all about eliminating animal agriculture and putting livestock producers out of business.

NCBA, he says, will continue to “do our best to produce a climate where producers have the freedom to operate responsibility and pass their operations on to next generation. That’s our focus.”