R-CALF’s USDA lawsuit takes aim at Canadian beef

Protectionist ranchers’ group says checkoffs promote ‘less safe and less wholesome’ imported beef

A group of cattle ranchers is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming their checkoff dollars are being used to promote Canadian and other imported beef.

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America — best known as R-CALF — also claims imported beef is “less safe and less wholesome.”

But the lawsuit filed earlier this month is “a fairly typical R-CALF action, accompanied by pretty typical R-CALF rhetoric,” said Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef Producers.

“The description in the lawsuit is a gross misrepresentation of what the United States is doing with its checkoff funds, and it unfairly maligns production practices and standards in other countries, including Canada,” said Smith.

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“R-CALF is an organization that opposes international trade, and it believes that international trade is bad for the cattle industry. That’s the perspective it’s taking in this action and that it’s consistently taken as an organization.”

The group alleges the USDA’s $1-per-head checkoff is being “unconstitutionally used to promote international beef, to the detriment of U.S. beef products and producers.”

“The checkoff’s implied message that all beef is equal, regardless of where the cattle are born or how they are raised, harms U.S. farmers and ranchers and deceives U.S. citizens,” R-CALF chief executive officer Bill Bullard said in a news release.

“Despite what we know to be clear evidence about the high quality of beef raised by independent U.S. cattlemen, we are being taxed to promote a message that beef raised without the strict standards used by our members is the same as all other beef, a message we do not support and do not agree with.”

The group alleges the national checkoff — which collected more than $80 million last year — is being used to fund promotional efforts that include a Wendy’s ad campaign that promoted “a product that could contain beef from 41 different countries.” It also claims imported beef products are “less safe and less wholesome than those produced by the organization’s members and originate from cattle not raised using the U.S. cattle industry’s rigorous animal husbandry practices.”

“At a time of alarming food recalls and concerns about the health and safety of the food we eat, that’s both irresponsible and troubling,” said David Muraskin, one of the lawyers representing R-CALF in the lawsuit.

Not another COOL

That allegation is patently false, said Smith.

“Our production practices are at least as good as those in the United States, and our regulations here — especially in the area of traceability — are significantly stronger than in the United States,” he said.

The lawsuit comes just months after the repeal of the U.S. country-of-origin labelling (COOL) law. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association spent seven years and nearly $4 million fighting COOL, which it said cost beef and pork farmers about $8 billion in reduced exports and lower prices.

R-CALF was a major player in the lobbying effort to implement COOL, but Smith said he’s not expecting the lawsuit to have a major impact.

“There’s always a risk when you hear the kind of rhetoric that you hear from R-CALF, but as an organization, it certainly seems to have lost a large amount of its influence,” said Smith.

“It was more worrisome for our industry when it had more influence. It’s not without influence, but it certainly doesn’t have the influence it had even 10 years ago.”

Moreover, the “vast majority” of U.S. cattle producers recognizes that international trade is good for the beef industry, and realizes R-CALF’s allegations distort the truth, he said.

“It’s a very protectionist organization,” said Smith. “R-CALF is trying to justify the fact that it doesn’t want trade in beef.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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