Court expands beef checkoff lawsuit

The lawsuit alleges USDA is in violation of the First Amendment in allowing the beef checkoff to fund state beef councils.
Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

Published on November 12, 2018 10:03AM

A federal judge has granted R-CALF USA’s motion to expand its lawsuit against USDA over the constitutionality of the beef checkoff to include 13 states in addition to Montana.

A federal judge has granted R-CALF USA’s motion to expand its lawsuit against USDA over the constitutionality of the beef checkoff to include 13 states in addition to Montana.


A U.S. District Court in Montana has granted R-CALF USA’s motion to expand its lawsuit against USDA over the constitutionality of the beef checkoff to include 13 states in addition to Montana.

That court previously granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting USDA from compelling cattle producers in Montana to pay checkoff money to fund the Montana Beef Council without obtaining producers’ consent.

R-Calf argues that action violates the First Amendment because state beef councils are private entities funding private speech that cattle producers disagree with and cannot influence.

Because USDA has no role in directly supervising the councils, R-CALF argues their promotions do not constitute government speech, which is exempt from the First Amendment.

The lawsuit now also applies to checkoff funding for state beef councils in Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Morris’ ruling doesn’t apply the temporary injunction in effect in Montana to those states. But if R-CALF is successful in seeking a permanent injunction, it would likely apply to the additional states, R-CALF stated in a press release.

R-CALF’s members, including those in the 14 states included in the lawsuit, object to both the beef checkoff’s messaging and the fact that state beef councils are entirely unaccountable, R-CALF stated in court papers.

It alleges checkoff money is used to undermine independent cattle producers by promoting multinational beef companies.

Checkoff dollars are regularly used to promote a false equivalency between domestic and imported beef because this allows multinational beef companies to import cheaper beef and pass it off to consumers at the same price as domestic beef -- but with wider margins, R-CALF stated in court papers.

“This reduces the amount of beef purchased from domestic independent cattle producers and the prices they receive for their products,” it stated.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was quick to respond to the court’s ruling, stating R-CALF’s allegations are without merit and only serve to divide beef producers and distract beef councils from building demand for beef.

The Federation of State Beef Councils is a division of NCBA.

“The simple fact is that regular audits of the beef checkoff and NCBA have found both to be compliant with the laws governing the checkoff,” Kendal Frazier, NCBA’s CEO, said

In addition, two audits conducted by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General have also come back clean. R-CALF’s accusations to the contrary are false, he said.

“R-CALF has become nothing but a front group for activists seeking to divide the industry, lessen beef demand and drive producers out of business,” he said.

One of R-CALF’s attorneys on the case is David Muraskin, an attorney with Public Justice who focuses on litigation to promote sustainable alternatives to industrial animal agriculture, according to Public Justice’s website.

NCBA claims that R-CALF also has ties with HSUS, Food and Water Watch and other animal-rights and vegetarian activists groups seeking to drive cattle producers out of business.

Bill Bullard, R-CALF CEO, said he isn’t surprised by NCBA’s response.

“We are directly threatening their money train,” he said.

NCBA receives $10 million in checkoff money each year to fund the Federation of State Beef Councils, he said.



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