USDA critic regroups in battle over beef checkoff
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A rancher critical of the USDA's oversight of the national beef checkoff program has dropped his lawsuit against the agency but vows to revive the battle.
Michael Callicrate, who has operations in Colorado and Kansas, said he plans to file another lawsuit after arming himself with more information about how the checkoff is managed.
"We're going to be more aggressive," he said.
Callicrate said he voluntarily dismissed the previous complaint "without prejudice" -- meaning the claims can still be pursued -- largely out of disgust with a recent internal USDA audit related to the checkoff.
"This is a complete breach of duty," he said. "They have done a complete cover-up in our view."
Critics claim that the Cattlemen's Beef Board, which oversees the checkoff, has been dominated by the program's largest contractor, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
One of the main allegations is that NCBA unlawfully uses checkoff dollars collected from beef producers for lobbying activities.
Callicrate said he's disturbed that his checkoff dollars fund the NCBA because the group opposes efforts like country of origin labeling for beef.
"That's the kind of thing that angers independent cattle producers," he said.
However, the recent audit from USDA's Office of Inspector General found "no impropriety" in the spending of checkoff dollars.
The Cattlemen's Beef Board and the NCBA, which denied the allegation, have applauded the audit's finding.
The two organizations and USDA could not immediately be reached for comment.
Critics maintain that the results were skewed by the political influence of major beef packers.
Callicrate said he will file a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about the audit process, then file another complaint with more targeted allegations of wrongdoing.
The OIG's investigation took several years, during which time the auditor's focus shifted from the NCBA to the agency's Agricultural Marketing Service, Callicrate said.
"This thing got derailed," he said. "It shows just how corrupt this agency is."