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Beef beef: NCBA chief’s remarks spur R-CALF to seek debate

The chief executive of the nation’s oldest and largest cattle industry association thinks a competing group is in bed with radical activists who want to “undermine the beef industry.”

Kendal Frazier, who is chief executive officer of the Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, took a shot or two at the Billings-based group known as R-CALF, or the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund of the United Stockgrowers of America.

Writing Monday in the industry’s popular Drovers publication, Frazier charged R-CALF with banding together with activist groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Public Justice to damage the beef industry by “pushing cattle off the land, sliding beef off the plate, and driving cattle producers off the ranch.”

Frazier’s specific complaint is with R-CALF involvement with HSUS and Public Justice in litigation against the Montana Beef Council.

“We’ve seen this trend increase lately,” he wrote. “It was first begun by HSUS activists who used their deep pockets to buy influence in the beef industry and gain standing to file lawsuits against the (beef) checkoff in an all out effort to end beef promotion, and ultimately, the production of beef in the United States.”

R-CALF’s chief executive, Bill Bullard, was quick to respond on his organization’s website, calling Frazier’s charges “absurd.” He denied R-CALF has entered into an “alliance” or is “aligned” with HSUS.

“We also are not beholders to the government, to meatpackers, or to industry corporations as are many industry trade associations,” Bullard responded. “We are unique in that our funding comes exclusively from voluntary membership dues and voluntary membership contributions.”

Bullard did not deny being the most aggressive activist in the U.S. cattle industry. He refers to R-CALF as “the nation’s largest producer-only cattle association.”

R-CALF has long been at odds with NCBA about the national and state beef check-off programs. It’s recent challenge to the Montana Beef Council was over whether cattle ranchers have to contribute to the organization if they disagree with its corporate speech.

The $1 per sale “beef check” is suppose to go for marketing and food safety research that benefits the entire beef industry.  NCBA is a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program as are other organizations such as  the American Farm Bureau Federal, U.S. Meat Export Federal and others.

The two organizations are also divided on issues that involve Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL. Restoring COOL is part of R-CALF’s eight-point plan to “reverse the decline” of the U.S. cattle industry. It calls for reinstating mandatory COOL.

Frazier’s NCBA does not see it that way.

“COOL was U.S. law for over six years and failed to deliver on its promises to build consumer confidence and add value for our producers,” Frazier wrote. “Instead, COOL resulted in a long battle in the World Trade Organization — with the United States facing the promise of more than $1 billion dollars in retaliatory tariffs from Mexico and Canada unless COOL was repealed,” Frazier says.

Canada and Mexico still have the authority to retaliate against the United States if COOL is brought back into effect — and Frazier said the industry can rest assured they will retaliate.

“We must learn from the mistakes of the past and not repeat them,” Frazier concluded. “We encourage you to build on the success that current NAFTA provisions have given U.S. beef producers.”

As for the shots Frazier took at R-CALF, Bullard has offered up a suggestion on how to settle it, saying he would “sure like to debate him in a big public room full of real cattle-owning ranchers — not just packers in hats.”

NCBA did not respond to a Food Safety News inquiry about whether Frazier would take the debate challenge.

Update:  NCBA is a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program, not the administrator as this article originally stated.  Administration is the responsibility of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board with oversight from USDA.

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