Bill Bullard

R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard says ranchers need to push legislation to make the large packers participate more in the cattle markets.

R-CALF USA’s CEO, Bill Bullard, gave an update this week on three lawsuits the ranchers’ organization has filed.

If R-CALF prevails, “these three cases will help to restore competition and prevent the government and multi-national meat packers from exercising control over the decisions independent cattle producers make on their operations every day,” Bullard said.

The lawsuits range from antitrust allegations against four meatpackers to a mandate for RFID chips on cattle.

• Antitrust: R-CALF awaits a hearing date for oral arguments on a motion to dismiss its antitrust lawsuit against four meat packers.

R-CALF alleges in its complaint that since at least Jan. 1, 2015, Tyson, Cargill, JBS and National Beef “have conspired to fix and suppress — and did, in fact, fix and suppress the price of fed cattle in the United States.”

The National Farmers Union joined the lawsuit in October.

“For many years, Cargill has served as a trusted partner to American cattle ranchers, committed to supporting their family farms and livelihoods,” a Cargill spokesman stated. “We believe the claims lack merit, and we are confident in our efforts to maintain market integrity and conduct ethical business.”

The other three companies have not yet responded to the Capital Press requests for comment.

“We hope the court will agree we have presented sufficient facts to warrant the court’s continuation of this case,” Bullard said. “We think we presented a very strong case to the court.”

• Checkoff: R-CALF will shortly file an objection to a Montana federal district judge’s findings and recommendations in its lawsuit over the USDA’s handling of the national beef checkoff.

R-CALF’s position is that 15 state beef councils are private corporations expressing private speech, and compelling cattle producers to fund that speech is unconstitutional.

“We are preserving and defending the constitutional rights of producers not to be forced to fund the private speech of private corporations...,” he said.

The judge found that because the government had entered into memorandums of understanding with each of the 15 state councils, the action transformed private speech into government speech.

“We hope the federal district judge will realize you cannot cure a constitutional violation with a revocable agreement, as these MOUs are,” Bullard said. “We also hope the judge will realize the MOUs do not cover the millions of dollars that flow from the states to third parties for their use to express private speech, like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and U.S. Meat Export Federation.”

• RFID mandate: R-CALF filed a lawsuit Oct. 4 against USDA’s plans to mandate radio-frequency identification technology by Jan. 1, 2023, for all adult cattle involved in interstate commerce.

Three weeks later, the government withdrew the mandate and filed a motion to dismiss the case, on the basis there is no longer a controversy before the court. USDA voluntarily withdrew the mandate and made assurances that none of the requirements would be implemented without a lawful notice and comment period, Bullard said.

He said the court hasn’t addressed R-CALF’s claim that the USDA violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which prohibits agencies from relying on individuals when formulating policy decisions unless providing notice to the federal register and publishing minutes of meetings, to provide complete transparency.

R-CALF alleges the USDA violated the act by hand-picking committees consisting only of individuals who support the RFID mandate. The court agreed with the government and dismissed the case. R-CALF has filed a motion seeking a supplemental order to address that claim.

“The government must be prohibited from using any of the work product produced by these allegedly unlawful committees as they move forward with their stated goals of wanting to require mandatory RFID,” Bullard said.

Bullard is not certain when the judge will respond.

“We have protected the rights and liberties of U.S. cattle producers to choose how best to identify their own animals,” Bullard said.

R-CALF has about 5,300 members in 43 states.

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