KANSAS CITY, MO. August 9, 2012 – The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) announced plans to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday in an effort to stop the agency from allowing the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) to receive any funding from the national beef checkoff.

Interest in suing the agency was driven, in part, by discussions the group had with lawyers who work for the Humane Society of the U.S., according to OCM President Fred Stokes.

Stokes said he couldn’t directly speak to the specifics of the court case until it is filed. But he said that litigation was necessary “to put a stop to abuses that have been occurring in the beef checkoff. Other things may happen later involving broadening this thing out a bit.”

A spokesman for NCBA said the organization would not be issuing any response until they have had a chance to review the lawsuit. However, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association J.D. Alexander issued a statement expressing “disgust” at the OCM’s relationship with HSUS.

“HSUS is an organization going state by state vowing to end production agriculture by outlawing scientifically validated production practices in animal agriculture. Their efforts put people out of business and often jeopardize the well-being of livestock,” said Alexander.

The Beef Promotion and Research Act was authorized in the 1985 Farm Bill and became effective in 1986 as a way to strengthen the position of beef in the marketplace and to maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets and uses for beef.  The program is funded by a mandatory assessment of $1 per head collected each time cattle are sold.

During a webcast from OCM’s annual meeting in Kansas City, Stokes said the independent farm and ranch is rapidly disappearing and that the decision to sue came after several other events that painted a “picture of gloom for those of us involved in independent family agriculture. “  

“We can only continue to exist if there is a market that’s open, transparent and competitive and there are forces out there who want to ensure that this isn’t going to happen.”

On the contrary, Stokes said that the folks at HSUS “want to be a party to a coalition of folks to see that this little remnant of family agriculture remains.”

“Every cowboy out there owes a big debt of gratitude to HSUS,” Stokes emphasized, while noting that HSUS President Wayne Pacelle will address OCM members in Kansas City tomorrow.

“We had high hopes that this (Obama) administration would do some of the things that needed to be done, that they understood the problems and would address them. We were encouraged when there were five workshops initiated throughout the country to address specific aspects of agriculture and the market issues.

A lot of farmers and ranchers left their farms, raided their piggybank, traveled some distance to attend these meetings, Stokes said about the “Competition Workshops” organized last year by USDA and the U.S. Justice Department.

“And they came away convinced that indeed these people understood their problems and felt their pain and that help was on the way. It didn’t happen.”

Stokes criticized efforts to weaken and restrict the proposed USDA rule for livestock and poultry marketing in the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).

“Millions of dollars were spent to defeat this rule and a lot of that money was our money - money that was forcefully taken from us through so called commodity compulsion programs,” he added. “We have been funding our own misery. And that needs to stop.”

Stokes said his group held a meeting in March where they discussed the potential for litigation with a number of attorneys, including some associated with HSUS. A few weeks later, Stokes said those same HSUS attorneys hosted a meeting for OCM in Washington, D.C. and picked up the tab.

Stokes said that attorneys with Polsinelli Shughart in Kansas City are now handling the lawsuit on a pro bono basis. According to the National Law Journals’ ranking of firm’s by size in 2011, Polsinelli Shughart was the 87th largest firm in the U.S.  The American Lawyer web site notes that the firm has $235 million in gross revenues with revenue per lawyer at $465,000.

OCM is not the first organization to express concerns about how beef checkoff funds are allocated. In March 2010, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Livestock Marketing Association, National Farmers Union, National Livestock Producers Association, National Milk Producers Federation and the US Cattleman’s Association wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack express “grave concerns” about proposed governance changes at NCBA, echoing concerns expressed by the Secretary in his own letter to NCBA leaders. For copies of those letters, click on the links below.


This story was updated at 6:45 am to include NCBA statement.


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