Friday, April 8, 2011

'Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends ...'

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2011 at 5:01 PM

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Recently, High Country News took a look at a subject we've covered extensively in the past: ranchers, and their fight against Big Meatpacking. (It's just fun to say.)

Among others, HCN spoke with Mike Callicrate, owner of Ranch Foods Direct, in its latest piece. While the story is subscription-only, here's a snippet to remind us of why meatpacking has remained a contentious business for so long:

Callicrate began running a feedlot in western Kansas in 1973, and in 1996, he was one of five ranchers who challenged a meatpacker with a class action lawsuit in federal court in Alabama, where juries are often sympathetic to plaintiffs. In Pickett v. IBP (now Tyson), they charged that the company violated the Packers and Stockyards Act by distorting prices on the cash market and paying ranchers less than their cattle were worth. The five ranchers sought damages for themselves and all the cattlemen allegedly injured by IBP's market manipulations. ...

In 2004, Callicrate's side won the Pickett case. Jurors awarded $1.28 billion to the class of ranchers who had been injured by the company's market manipulation. But U.S. District Judge Lyle Strom, a Reagan appointee, vacated the ruling and ordered the ranchers who had brought the case to pay Tyson's court costs, under the rationale that the Packers and Stockyards Act applies only if the damage caused by Tyson's market manipulation meets the standard antitrust definition of injuring marketplace competition as a whole. Any damages suffered just by ranchers dealing with Tyson wouldn't meet the standard for invoking the law, the judge ruled. Similar verdicts by other judges have stymied lawsuits by other cattle ranchers and poultry farmers — spurring demands for a clearer interpretation of the Act in favor of ranchers.

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