A million dollars doesn't buy what it used to — just a few happy lawyers, plenty of aggravation and untold lost opportunity.

That's the conservative price tag on the direct cost and economic liability accrued by this nation's beef cattle producers thus far in fighting the frivolous — some would say malicious — checkoff battle forced on the industry by the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA), the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) and others.

What else do you call it when about two-thirds of the nation's producers, in independent polls year in and year out, have voiced their support for the research and promotion self-help program since its inception in 1987?

Running The Tab

Thus far, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the Nebraska Cattlemen and other state organizations have put up about $310,000 in non-checkoff revenue to do battle, says Kendal Frazier, NCBA's vice president of communications. NCBA also has earmarked an additional $85,000 of its non-checkoff reserves for the war chest this year. That adds up to $415,000.

Add to that $230,000 that the Cattlemen's Promotion and Research Board (Beef Board) had to spend reimbursing USDA for verification of the petition signatures that LMA gathered in hopes of forcing another referendum. That's according to Beef Board CEO Monte Reese.

You remember the petition. LMA said they had overwhelming support for a new referendum. They couldn't even muster enough valid signatures to equate to 10% of this nation's producers. But all producers ended up having a chance to pay for the process.

So we're up to $675,000.

Now, if USDA ultimately loses its case, appealing the decision of the lightning rod in South Dakota — maybe even if the plaintiffs win, who knows in this run-amok world of groundless litigation — the Beef Board may be required to pay the plaintiffs the legal fees. The plaintiffs being LMA and the others who seem to believe their minority opinion should carry more weight than more than two-thirds of all producers in this country.

Reese estimates that bill at approximately $500,000 thus far. If there is a saving grace, unless you happen to be a U.S. taxpayer, once the case turned into a question of constitutionality, the defendant and legal fee payer became good old Uncle Sam himself.

If the ink isn't running on the Big Chief tablet, we're up to $1.17 million.

Again, that figure merely represents a short list of direct cost and liability for a handful of organizations.

What about the local, state, regional and national volunteer leadership and staff time of organizations having to fight against the misinformation and easy rhetoric volleyed by LMA and pals, just to defend what a majority of their members and constituents have already said they wanted?

For that matter, during an extended period of market instability, what's been the cost to every U.S. beef producer selling into a market made unnecessarily more unstable because the next buyer in line didn't know who might be left to provide industry-wide, producer-directed research and promotion? That includes cattle selling through LMA members.

Never mind the opportunity cost. More than $1 million of cash cost and liability, incalculable lost manpower and brainpower, and needless added pressure placed on an already vulnerable market for something the majority thought they had signed, sealed and delivered 15 years ago.

Instead, what if all of those resources had been aimed at some of the industry's more trivial matters: developing a standardized national cattle identification system that could help mitigate the outcome of a foreign animal disease catastrophe; reaching more consumers and their children with the truth about cattle production practices and the nutritional value of beef; developing producer education programs that replace fiction with the facts regarding such contentious issues as international trade and consolidation; developing more heat-and-eat convenience meals to battle record tonnage of pork and poultry; hiring more expertise to help us feel our way through value discovery and risk management; or just good old-fashioned promotion, buying more ads in more places more often?

Liably Yours

Ironically, in an industry that still boasts — usually rightfully so — about integrity and the meaning of a handshake, the majority seem willing to let the mass minority lead them by the bull ring and remain unaccountable for what they are costing the industry.

Some have wondered why the industry can't file a class-action lawsuit against LMA and its pals for damages caused. It would seem that a Florida judge recently set a precedent of sorts, ordering Robert Kennedy Jr. and some of his activists to pay all of the legal fees in suit the Kennedy camp brought against Smithfield Farms, which the judge found to be frivolous.

At the very least, if you're still selling through an LMA member, you might suggest they knock a few dollars off your next commission charge.

After all, what's a million dollars or so between friends?