R-CALF sues USDA over beef checkoff

by Erica Shaffer
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BILLINGS, Mt. – R-CALF, a cattle producer organization, sued the US Dept. of Agriculture on claims that the allocation of Beef Checkoff funds violates the First Amendment by compelling R-CALF members to subsidize marketing programs they say undermine US beef products.

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) filed the complaint in the US District Court for the District of Montana. The lawsuit names Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as plaintiff.

In the lawsuit, R-CALF argues that beef producers are forced to subsidize advertisements that contradict their values. R-CALF uses as an example Montana Beef Council promotions, which R-CALF says encourages consumers to eat more beef without acknowledging distinctions between beef produced in the United States and beef that is imported.

“…R-CALF USA’s members are being forced to sponsor speech that they do not agree with and would not choose to express if not compelled to do so,” the complaint states. “Members of R-CALF USA believe it is important to communicate to consumers that all beef is not equal, that it matters very much where and how beef is produced, and that consumers should prefer and select beef born, raised, and harvested in the United States.”

“The Checkoff’s implied message that all beef is equal, regardless of where the cattle are born or how they are raised, harms US farmers and ranchers and deceives US citizens,” said Bill Bullard, R-CALF USA CEO. “Despite what we know to be clear evidence about the high quality of beef raised by independent US cattlemen, we are being taxed to promote a message that beef raised without the strict standards used by our members is the same as all other beef, a message we do not support and do not agree with.”

Representing R-CALF in the lawsuit is Public Justice, a litigation group, and Montana attorney Bill Rossbach of Rossbach Law PC. Read the full complaint.

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