Court rules against R-CALF USA in checkoff case

Carrie Stadeim

Friday, March 27, Judge Brian Morris US District Court judge, denied R-CALF USA’s request for an injunction to stop certain state beef councils from collecting checkoff dollars.

R-CALF had alleged that because some state beef councils (including Montana and South Dakota) are not appointed by the government or elected by payers of the checkoff, that they are not producing government speech. According to R-CALF, this means that the state beef councils are private organizations and should not be allowed to require cattle producers to contribute $1 per head of beef sold.

Each qualified state beef council (QSBC) collects $1 from cattle producers for each head of cattle sold. They are to send $.50 to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and use the remainder for beef promotion, research and education.

The judge said USDA has, since the filing of the lawsuit, entered into Memorandums of Understanding with many state beef councils (including those in the lawsuit) “that give USDA significant discretion to approve or reject any and all QSBC promotional activities.”

The judge also said that under the MOUs, “QSBCs agree to submit to USDA ‘for pre-approval any and all promotion, advertising, research, and consumerinformation plans and projects.’”

R-CALF USA is very disappointed but not surprised by the ruling, said their CEO, Bill Bullard, because of the initial ruling by the magistrate judge.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was pleased with the ruling.

“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.

State beef councils are crucial to maintaining beef demand, said Woodall, and the lawsuit was threatening their ability to do so, his group believes.

One of R-CALF’s biggest concerns is the money that many state beef councils send directly to NCBA and the U.S. Meat Export Federation, groups that are not accountable to the government. This is in addition to the $.50 they are required to submit to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.

“The state councils are still sending millions of dollars to third parties. It’s still our contention that that is not government speech. The Government doesn’t approve every word of those advertisements.” The state beef councils send around $10 million to NCBA and the USMEF each year, he said.

“The government has now ensured that the state beef councils are expressing government speech, and that is not a violation of the constitution,” said Bullard.

It had been done in an unconstitutional way for 30 years, then after they filed the lawsuit, the government fixed it by entering into MOUs with the state beef councils, said Bullard. MOUs are revocable, R-CALF USA is not satisfied that the QSBCs will continue to operate under them indefinitely, said Bullard.

The group has not decided whether or not it will appeal the decision.