In his November issue commentary, Clint Peck expresses indignation that independent cattle producers have had the gall to resist the $1/head beef checkoff. He also accuses the Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC) of choreographing the violations.

NPRC has never urged anyone to refuse to pay the checkoff fee. We have done the following:

- NPRC helped the Livestock Marketing Association collect 146,000 signatures from cattle producers who want a nationwide vote on the checkoff.

- NPRC drafted legislation that would replace the current mandatory checkoff with one that would be refundable and directed by producers.

- NPRC established a legal defense fund to help protect the constitutional rights of producers who choose to resist.

Last we looked, petitioning and lobbying our government were still constitutionally protected activities.

NPRC supports a checkoff referendum and reform legislation. Why? Because the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) uses the power given them through control of checkoff funds to promote a vertically integrated, centralized beef industry whereby independent beef producers would become the equivalent of field hands for multi-national corporations.

NCBA also supports international trade agreements that allow packers to dump foreign cattle into U.S. markets at the expense of domestic producers. In addition, NCBA has joined packers in opposing antitrust enforcement under the Packers and Stockyards Act, which would curtail the packers' manipulation of cattle markets through the abuse of captive supplies.

Checkoff boosters claim that the mandatory program is fair because "everyone who benefits pays." Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who benefit (the packers and wholesalers) don't have to pay, and those who have to pay (independent cattle producers) don't benefit.

"We cannot direct the course of change when everyone has a personal agenda," Peck asserts. "We can only direct the course of change with a common vision." Unfortunately, this "common vision" seems to have a lot to do with getting rid of independent producers while concentrating the beef industry and the wealth it produces into the hands of a few.

This vision may be "common" to giant agribusinesses, but 146,000 independent cattle producers who signed a petition requesting a referendum on the checkoff don't share it. Nor do the independent cattle producers who refuse to pay the checkoff.

This predatory, monopolistic vision for the future of the cattle industry is antithetical to the principles of American capitalism - open and competitive markets. That some ranchers refuse to pay the fee speaks more to the erosion of the checkoff's credibility than to any conspiracy orchestrated by NPRC.

Peck is right to accuse NPRC of opting out of NCBA's corporate "vision." We will continue to press for open, competitive cattle markets; a nationwide vote on the checkoff; and federal legislation that will replace the current checkoff with one that is refundable and directed by producers.