The Beef Industry Checkoff Group will meet with USDA officials next week in Denver, and for now at least, R-CALF USA won’t be there.

R-CALF has issued several letters and news releases about the issue over the past few days, including a September 20 letter to USDA demanding access to all communications regarding the meeting under the Freedom of Information Act.

The dispute began on September 17 when eight members of the checkoff group (in which R-CALF has participated in the past) sent R-CALF a letter advising them they are not invited to attend the meeting. Group members sending the letter include the NCBA, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, Meat Importers Council of America, American National CattleWomen, American Farm Bureau Federation, Livestock Marketing Association, National Livestock Producers and National Farmers Union. 

Actually, the dispute began earlier than that, dating to 2010 when audits revealed leaks in the “firewall” intended to prevent NCBA’s policy arm from using checkoff funds. NCBA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board resolved and settled the financial errors and created new safeguards, to the satisfaction of the USDA, but R-CALF has pushed since that time for USDA to ban NCBA from checkoff contracts.

In August 2012, R-CALF member Mike Callicrate filed a lawsuit against USDA, seeking to end NCBA’s role as a checkoff contractor. The lawsuit attracted considerable news coverage, particularly due to the role of animal-rights group Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in providing legal advice to the plaintiffs.

So when the Beef Checkoff Industry Input Group sent their letter to R-CALF on September 17, they cited the lawsuit as a reason for scratching them from the invitation list. “In the past few weeks,” the letter reads, “your organization, R‐CALF USA, has indicated in a letter to USDA Sec. Vilsack that it ‘supports the actions called for in the lawsuit’ and if the Secretary does not act on the letter, [R‐CALF] will consider joining the lawsuit."

R-CALF, however, denies writing any such thing. R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard sent a response to the checkoff group on September 19 stating “This is not a matter of misinterpreting R-CALF USA’s letter to Secretary Vilsack. You have committed fraud and libel by willfully and maliciously fabricating, and then assigning to R-CALF USA, a damaging and inflammatory quote that R-CALF USA did not make. You then maliciously used that fictitious quote as your basis for banning R-CALF USA from participating in the upcoming Sept. 24, 2012 meeting.”

The letter further states, “Your letter does not even reach the level of child’s play. Your action of willfully fabricating a statement, and then maliciously assigning that false statement to R-CALF USA as a direct quote, is so unethical and unprofessional as to be criminal.” 

So what did R-CALF actually say about the Callicrate lawsuit? On August 28, Bullard sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack demanding an immediate and permanent end to contracts between the beef checkoff and NCBA. In the letter, Bullard states that R-CALF “fully supports the merits of the Michael Callicrate v. USDA et al. lawsuit.

He concludes the letter with the following statement: “We trust that you will carefully consider our demand and choose to comply in full. Doing so will negate the need for R-CALF USA to formally join in a complaint against you.”

So, technically they did not say "R‐CALF will consider joining the lawsuit" as the checkoff group stated in their letter. Instead, they implied if the Secretary complies with their wishes, they won’t need to join the lawsuit.

It’s kind of like the difference between telling your kid if he cleans up his room he won’t be grounded; as opposed to saying he’ll be grounded if he doesn’t clean up his room. Your kid will only know the difference if he aspires to be a lawyer.