Suit filed against beef checkoff program

A group of small farmers and ranchers has filed a federal lawsuit in Kansas alleging that an $80 million nationwide beef promotion program is improperly using funds to lobby politicians on behalf of large agricultural interests.

Kansas rancher Mike Callicrate filed the suit Thursday against the secretary of agriculture, the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, and other entities, alleging portions of the money collected from farmers under the mandatory program is being used improperly to influence government policy.

Callicrate is an officer in the Organization for Competitive Markets, which has been critical of the beef checkoff program for years. Callicrate’s lawsuit contends millions of dollars from the program have been improperly given to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which he alleges is primarily a policy and lobbying group.

Callicrate and the Organization for Competitive Markets believe that the Cattlemen’s Beef Association lobbies on behalf of large agricultural interests and that the promotion program is therefore requiring them to contribute to an organization that works against the interests of small farmers.

The cattlemen’s association responded in a news release Friday, saying that the suit is an attempt to “destroy more than 25 years of market development and consumer demand building by the Beef Checkoff Program.”

Association president J.D. Alexander said the suit was filed as part of a partnership between the Organization for Competitive Markets and the Humane Society of the United States.

“OCM claims to advocate for a fair, competitive agricultural marketplace; however, in doing so, it partnered with an organization known for its anti-agriculture agenda,” Alexander said.

Alexander said the beef checkoff is supported by nearly 75 percent of cattlemen and cattlewomen.