State beef councils receive legal victory

District court rules against R-CALF’s challenge of Montana Beef Council’s use of beef checkoff funds.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

March 30, 2020

2 Min Read
State beef councils receive legal victory

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.

Related:Judge sides with state beef checkoff entities

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.

Related:Checkoff reform bill introduced in House

Woodall emphasized that NCBA will continue to stand with state beef councils whose work is crucial to maintaining beef demand throughout the nation.


About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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