The Beef Checkoff program and fifteen grassroots-led state beef councils won a major court victory when the United States District Court of Montana ruled in favor of USDA and the Montana Beef Council in the matter of R-CALF vs. Sonny Perdue and USDA.
R-CALF first challenged the Montana Beef Council because funds from the state beef checkoff were also allowed to be used for promoting all beef, which could also be from outside the United States. The national checkoff requires $1-per-head be sent to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Only by signing a form and tracking sales does the typically-state funneled 50 cents return to the Montana Beef Council board to invest in state promotional, research or educational efforts.
As this litigation wound its way from the Magistrate Judge John Johnston to the Ninth Circuit over the last three years, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began entering into memorandums of understanding with a number of qualified state beef councils including the Montana Beef Council as parties to the litigation. These memorandums gave USDA broad new authority over any potential speech that the beef councils might produce.
Magistrate Judge Johnston “outlined why the memorandums of understanding—which no beef council had entered until after Magistrate Judge Johnston had issued his first findings and recommendations—provided sufficient control of qualified state beef councils’ speech for that speech to qualify as government speech and thus not run afoul of the First Amendment,” a court document stated.
Whether R-CALF wants the Beef Checkoff program to differentiate between foreign and domestic beef proves irrelevant to Magistrate Judge Johnston’s analysis, the court document noted. “Defendant-Intervenors’ objection would only preclude R-CALF from showing that it had standing if Magistrate Judge Johnston had found that RCALF’s injury arose from the Beef Checkoff program’s failure to differentiate between foreign and domestic beef. His analysis did no such thing.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA) praised the court’s decision, which ends a legal battle that has spanned more than three years and interrupted beef promotion functions in Montana. The case had threatened local input and promotion efforts at the state level across the country.
“The foundation of the Beef Checkoff has always been state beef councils that collect checkoff funds and determine how those investments are used for research, marketing and promotion efforts in individual states. Those efforts are directed by the same cattlemen and cattlewomen who pay the checkoff, so this victory goes a long way toward ensuring they continue to direct those investments,” said NCBA CEO Colin Woodall.
Woodall emphasized that NCBA will continue to stand with state beef councils whose work is crucial to maintaining beef demand throughout the nation.