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New cattle group ‘ICON’ in NE

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Well-known member
Feb 11, 2005
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South East Kansas
New cattle group 'ICON' in NE

New cattle group off and running



February 18, 2005

VALENTINE, Neb. - Chris Abbott folded a check for a $35 membership to the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, or ICON, and promised to send a thank-you card to the rancher who gave it to him.

The rancher told him to save the postage and use it for something more important.

Abbott is president of the newly created ICON, which he said has signed up nearly 2,100 members as a state affiliate of the Montana-based group Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, or R-CALF.

It takes just $35 to join the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska and $50 more to become a member of R-CALF.

This past month, Abbott has been crisscrossing Nebraska giving short speeches and raising money at sale barns for R-CALF, though he said he will have to slow down in April when his own cows start calving. The fund-raisers have the dual purpose of adding new members to R-CALF while raising money for the group's most recent legal fight to keep the U.S. border closed to Canadian cattle.

The Canadian border issue resonates with cattle producers in Nebraska, and R-CALF is benefiting from that concern. The court case against the U.S. Department of Agriculture has attracted support from attorneys general from at least seven states - Connecticut, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming - who have filed briefs supporting R-CALF's position that the border should remain closed.

"It's kind of bad as producers we have to do this to protect our industry from the USDA, which is supposed to protect us," said Chris Harvey, a Valentine-area cow-calf producer who donated the calf used for Thursday's auction here.

The Canadian border has been closed to live cattle since May 2003, when the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease, in a Canadian cow was found. If the plan by the USDA goes through, the border would reopen to Canadian cattle as early as March 7.

About 150 cattlemen attended R-CALF's fund-raising auction Thursday afternoon at the Valentine Livestock Auction. The fund-raiser also was broadcast by a local radio station, and producers could call a toll-free number to contribute as well. The event raised more than $26,000.

First, ranchers just bid to contribute to the cause. Then they bid on five Western-scene art prints made in Valentine. Then they bid on the donated calf.

The Valentine auction follows auctions that collected $26,000 in Dunlap, Iowa, nearly $23,000 in Bassett, Neb. and $7,500 in Alma, Neb.

"We're going gangbusters right now," Abbott said. "Folks are a little nervous about this Canadian border. They have a right to be. It's a good example of rural people starting to stand up."

Abbott contacted Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning's office Wednesday to see if the state would join the lawsuit. Bill Bullard, R-CALF's CEO, also spoke briefly with officials there, who said Nebraska is backing the Nebraska Cattlemen's position on the issue. The Nebraska Cattlemen is the state's largest cattle organization and supports opening the border for cattle 30 months old or younger.

A spokeswoman for Bruning would not say why he declined to join the lawsuit. Mike Johanns, the new U.S. agriculture secretary and former Nebraska governor, backs the plan to open the border.

The issue of cattle trade with Canada will come to a head in a matter of weeks. A hearing is scheduled for March 2 at a federal courthouse in Montana on a motion by R-CALF seeking an injunction to block the United States from opening the border to Canadian cattle.

Abbott said R-CALF's position on the border has been misrepresented, and other members say people just portray R-CALF as being protectionist. But the United States shouldn't put its cattle industry at risk for Canada, he said, especially if there's no guarantee that Japan would open its border to U.S. beef after the U.S. opens its border to Canada.

"We want safeguards in place," Abbott said. "We want firewalls in place. We want fair trade in place. We'll open the border tomorrow if that happens."

Rick VanderWey, a cow-calf producer near Valentine, said the United States needs to label the country of origin of food so consumers know they are buying U.S. beef. He also said more research is needed on mad cow disease before the USDA reopens the border.

"We're not opposed to opening the border solely for economic reasons, but we need to keep consumer confidence in the product we raise," VanderWey said.

VanderWey said prices for producers would decline, possibly dramatically, once Canadian cattle are allowed to enter the country.

Kenny Fox, regional vice president of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, wrote his check Thursday to join the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska. Fox said producers in his state made the right decision when they broke ties four years ago with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

"R-CALF is really the only organization standing up for producers and consumers on this deal," Fox said.

While litigation on Canada heats up, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a report on mistakes made last year on the rules for importing Canadian beef. The U.S. resumed limited beef trade with Canada about six months after the first Canadian mad cow case and allowed boneless meat cuts from Canada.

But some U.S. meat inspectors allowed shipments of other Canadian beef products such as cattle tongues, hearts, kidneys and lips, the report said.

"There was reduced assurance that Canadian beef entering the United States was low-risk," the report said.

The fact that USDA inspectors were improperly allowing certain meats into the country became public because of an earlier lawsuit filed by R-CALF against the agency.

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