BILLINGS, Mont. – The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) filed a complaint in court arguing that beef checkoff practices in 15 states are unconstitutional. The states are Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin.
The complaint states that the states’ councils promote beef regardless of how or where the animals were raised, and R-CALF and its members are injured by this “private speech.”
Federal checkoff programs are mandatory participation programs administered by the US Dept. of Agriculture. The programs are funded by compulsory fees on beef, pork and other producers of agricultural products. Beef producers pay $1 per head of cattle sold.
R-CALF members believe the money is being mismanaged, and that the state checkoff programs have been keeping half of the assessments to fund private speech by third-party groups that support the consolidation of the cattle and beef industry, which R-CALF opposes.
For example, R-CALF said, the Texas Beef Council gave $2 million to the Federation of State Beef Councils and the US Meat Export Federation in 2018. And, other councils have donated to political advocacy groups like the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Initiative, R-CALF said.
R-CALF executives have said in the past that the lack of transparency and accountability for how checkoff money is spent left the organization with no other choice but to take legal action.
“The beef checkoff is eliminating opportunities for US cattle producers to remain profitable by promoting foreign beef as if it were equal to domestic beef and by supporting corporate efforts to consolidate and control our industry,” R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard said. “Our members said enough is enough and our plan is to put producers back in control of the checkoff, which our lawsuit helps accomplish.”
The lawsuit is another step in a long-running effort by R-CALF and others to reform federal marketing programs. In June of 2017, the US District Court for the District of Montana upheld a lower court’s injunction against the Montana Beef Council keeping a portion of beef checkoff funds without consent from the payers.
And some US lawmakers introduced legislation aimed at bringing transparency and accountability to checkoff programs. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Corey Booker (D -NJ) introduced the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2017 (OFF Act). A companion bill, The Voluntary Checkoff Act, co-sponsored by Reps Dave Brat (R-Va.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.) was introduced in the House. None of the proposed legislation made headway in Congress.