|Groups’ beef breaks into public view amid checkoff allegations|
|By KEVIN WALKER
BILLINGS, Mont. — A feud between two rancher groups broke out into the open last month, with one of them accusing the other of a smear campaign.
The Billings, Mont.-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) accused the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation (AFF) of smearing its name. In a post on the organization webpage Feb. 7, R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said he was disappointed that attacks against his organization were coming from the AFF, which he accuses of being a front group for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc. (NCBA), recipient of national beef checkoff dollars.
The immediate source of Bullard’s ire is an AFF-penned series of tracts on the cattle industry called Traitors in Our Midst, which attacks R-CALF USA as being, among other things, a tool of animal rights groups wanting to do away with animal agriculture.
“We are disappointed to learn that the baseless and venomous attacks on R-CALF USA’s thousands of cattle farmer and rancher members are not coming from some obscure, independent group, but rather, they are coming from a front organization that is directed by officials at the highest levels of the NCBA,” Bullard charged in the post.
“In other words, the NCBA is laundering its vicious attacks against R-CALF USA and R-CALF USA’s members through a shell corporation, which enables it to deceive its own membership and affiliates into believing that the attacks are coming from some independent source. This is the very definition of a swamp that needs draining.”
So, what are these groups really arguing about? According to Bullard, it’s country of origin labeling (COOL) and the larger issue of whether the cattle industry is going to be made up of independent producers able to make their own decisions, or a few mega-corporations running the entire cattle industry supply chain.
AFF Executive Vice President Steve Dittmer responded by saying his affiliations are inconsequential and, in fact, to be expected. Bullard has not denied that his group is affiliated with radical animal rights organizations such as Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), Dittmer said.
Every time a cattle unit is sold, the state in which it’s sold pays 50 cents to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, half the checkoff fee collected.
“Virtually all of that (50 cents) goes to the NCBA,” Bullard said in a separate interview. “That organization works against COOL, works against the independent producer. NCBA is against President Trump’s efforts to reform trade agreements. People like Steve Dittmer represent the meatpacking lobby.”
He said R-CALF USA is now supporting legislation that would make the national beef checkoff voluntary. He alleges the checkoff is “fundamentally corrupt” and warns that the “vertical and horizontal integration” that’s occurred in the poultry industry completely, and hog industry for the most part, could also happen to the cattle industry if it isn’t challenged.
Laws against monopolies and oligopolies haven’t been enforced in these industries, Bullard said. Today, becoming a producer in the poultry industry “is by (corporate) invitation only.”
With respect to Dittmer and the AFF, the group’s executive vice president is the only employee and the group’s board of directors are all affiliated with the NCBA; however, Dittmer said that isn’t important.
“(Bill Bullard) did not deny connections to HSUS,” he said, charging, “He’s literally working with HSUS and Public Justice. Public Justice has openly said it’s against animal agriculture. All (Bullard) has said is we’re connected to NCBA, which is no big deal. HSUS is really trying to get rid of the checkoffs, all of them, soybean and everything.”
He opined what bothers R-CALF and these other groups is that there is a lot of money in the checkoff system, and the system is working well.
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