A lawsuit against the major meatpackers alleging they knew about errors in USDA price reporting in spring 2001, and benefited at the expense of cattle producers, concluded step one this week. That was a verdict fining Tyson $4 million, Cargill $3 million, and Swift $2.25 million. The next step is an almost certain appeal.
Other than that, for the first time in a long time, the legal docket seems to be clear for the U.S. beef industry. The legal actions regarding the beef checkoff have all been decided or dropped, and the Canadian trade issue is for now put to bed. The Tyson vs. Picket case has also made its way through the system.
Sure, the Creekstone vs. USDA suit regarding private BSE testing is on the horizon but it's really not a suit involving producers. Nor is the industry expected to play a major role in the case, and it should be resolved in fairly short order.
Activist groups are often driven to the court not entirely to win a favorable judgement, but to create passion among their constituents. But the courts have also proven to be an effective method to create change when you don't have the legs to win in the political process.
Thus, undoubtedly we'll continue to see lawsuits, and history indicates the packing industry is the most likely to find itself in the legal crosshairs as the industry moves into the low point of the cattle cycle. Undoubtedly someone will come up with a judicial remedy for the problems.
But for now, the days of reading through legal papers appear to be over, at least until we can come up with a new set of issues. -- Troy Marshall