New cattle group ‘ICON’ in NE
New cattle group off and running
BY CHRIS CLAYTON
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
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
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,
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
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 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
"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
"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.