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We’re not working with R-CALF: NFU

Attending the same meeting on North American livestock trade issues should not imply any coziness or partnership whatsoever with U.S. protectionist ranchers’ group R-CALF USA, according to Canada’s National Farmers Union.

NFU directors Neil Peacock and Jan Slomp issued a press release Thursday after statements attributed to both farmers from a recent meeting of 14 mostly U.S. and Mexican groups in Billings, Montana appeared Tuesday in an R-CALF release and were picked up by Canadian ag media.

The NFU, they said Thursday, “is not working with the U.S. cattle organization R-CALF, we have no plans to do so in the future, and we have no agreements to collaborate with R-CALF on any initiative.”

The NFU directors said Thursday that they first met R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard at the meeting in Billings last week, until which time no one from the NFU had ever spoken to him. “Thus, we are surprised to see media commentators linking the NFU to an organization that we have never worked with and rarely, if ever, communicated with,” they wrote.

“Tough sell”

The NFU on Thursday did not name any specific commentators, but Saskatoon-based veteran farm writer Kevin Hursh picked up on the R-CALF release on his website Tuesday, saying the NFU “has become cozy” with the U.S. group.

“The truth is that R-CALF is against trade and without trade the Canadian beef industry would have to contract to about half its current size,” Hursh wrote. “That’s a tough sell on this side of the border.”

The Billings conference was sponsored by the NFU, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Western Organization of Resource Councils, the National Association of Peasant Marketing Enterprises and Food and Water Watch.

Other participants besides R-CALF included the Confederation of Mexican Hog Farmers, Democratic Peasant Front of Chihuahua, La Jornada del Campo, the Dakota Resource Council, Dakota Rural Action, the Farmers Legal Action Group (U.S.) and Northern Plains Resource Council.

“We were pleased to learn that Canadian producers support R-CALF’s efforts to prevent further concentration in the meatpacking industry and to eliminate anticompetitive cattle procurement practices going on in each of our countries,” Bullard said Tuesday. “We look forward to sharing information with Canadian producers that will help both Canada and the U.S. restore competition for all cattle farmers and ranchers.”

But R-CALF, in its release Tuesday, also quoted Peacock as saying the NFU “no longer view R-CALF as a threat because our cattle producers are facing the same challenges as independent U.S. cattle producers.

“Just like R-CALF members in the U.S., we are fighting the packers, the mega-corporations and the ramifications of NAFTA and the WTO,” the Sexsmith, Alta. farmer was quoted as saying in R-CALF’s release. “It would be nice to unite with R-CALF to fight the issues we have in common.”

“Authorities here are influenced by the Cargills and make R-CALF the enemy and try to mobilize all the Canadian ranchers against R-CALF, which is not helpful at all,” R-CALF quoted Slomp as saying Tuesday.

“I can totally understand and defend R-CALF in public now,” Slomp, who farms at Rimbey, Alta., was quoted as saying Tuesday. “We need to be allies with R-CALF.”

“Profound disagreements”

R-CALF USA (short for Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) has been an often-loathed acronym among many Canadian cattle producers for about 10 years. As an upstart northern-state ranchers’ group, R-CALF called for and got antidumping and countervailing measures taken against U.S. imports of Canadian cattle in 1998-99.

The duties levied against imports of Canadian cattle were eventually overturned but cost Canadian cattle producers millions of dollars to fight.

R-CALF would later gain further notoriety in the Canadian cattle sector as it launched challenges in U.S. courts to keep the U.S. border closed to Canadian cattle and beef after the 2003 discovery of BSE in an Alberta cow. It has also been an active proponent of mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) legislation in the U.S.

The NFU said Thursday it “has profound disagreements with R-CALF in its attacks on the (Canadian Wheat Board in 1999) and on cattle farmers’ interests” such as R-CALF’s defense of the BSE border closures.

“On many issues — on analysis as well as tactics — the NFU vehemently disagrees with R-CALF and will continue to do so,” Peacock said in Thursday’s NFU release.

“But in order to resolve pressing problems within the North American cattle sector, we are willing to listen to the positions of a broad range of organizations to understand their analyses of packer power and corporate concentration.”

The NFU acknowledged Thursday that R-CALF has done “very effective” work in drawing attention to the power of large meatpacking corporations in North America and in educating farmers about “captive supply,” meaning packers’ ownership or control of live cattle.

Nevertheless, the NFU said Thursday, “incorrect inferences about a connection between R-CALF and the NFU flow from an R-CALF news release that included statements by NFU members.

“What is missing from media reports is the context of those statements: R-CALF’s work on captive supply, the takeover of North American packers by JBS corporation, and anti-trust actions against large packers.”

The Billings meeting and its 14 participating groups “focused on hog, cattle, food safety, and trade issues in all three nations,” and it did not create any formal agreements to work together, the NFU said.

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