Challenge over beef checkoff documents continues

by MEAT+POULTRY Staff
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WASHINGTON – A move by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) to intervene in a lawsuit over documents related to government audits of the Beef Checkoff drew allegations of a cover up from the organization that launched the complaint.

The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), filed a lawsuit in 2014 seeking the release of documents related to an audit of the beef checkoff program that was conducted by the Office of the Inspector General for the US Dept. of Agriculture. OCM requested the documents in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

In September, the NCBA asked the US District Court for the District of Columbia to grant NCBA intervenor status, which would allow the organization to become directly involved in the lawsuit over the OIG documents. The OCM and other groups have raised questions about whether checkoff dollars are being used properly by industry representatives. Specifically, the OCM believes checkoff dollars were used to kill country of origin labeling regulations. In a statement posted to the OCM website, Mike Weaver, OCM president, accused NCBA of “…trying to hide behind the truth by attempting to intervene…” in the lawsuit.

NCBA has said the lawsuit is a divide-and-conquer tactic by animal welfare activists aimed at weakening the beef industry and the checkoff program. NCBA CEO Kendal Frazier said in a news release last month that the documents in question are protected work product, and that the OIG audits have found checkoff contractors and NCBA to be in compliance with federal laws.

“We have nothing to hide. We have, and will continue to fully cooperate with all reviews and audits of our contracting activities,” Frazier said in the release. “However, we will not stand idly by and allow HSUS to kill the checkoff. This isn’t the first attempt to weaken our industry, and it won’t be the last, but this is where we must draw a line in the sand and protect the interests of American cattlemen and women.”

Meanwhile, OCM continues to blame NCBA for industry challenges faced by cattle producers. “With heavy concentration in the retail market and few buyers, producers are the ones being squeezed right out of business,” OCM said recently in a statement. “It is beef prices that have stayed relatively high–not cattle prices.”

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