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Agricultural News

R-CALF Sues USDA Over Beef Checkoff- Claiming It is Illegal to Promote International Beef With Checkoff Funds

Tue, 03 May 2016 21:53:31 CDT

R-CALF Sues USDA Over Beef Checkoff- Claiming It is Illegal to Promote International Beef With Checkoff Funds
The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Monday, alleging that the agency's Beef Checkoff tax, which collected more than $80 million in FY 2015, is being unconstitutionally used to promote international beef, to the detriment of U.S. beef products and producers. R-CALF USA, whose members are independent cattle producers across the United States, says that while its members must pay a $1per-head tax to the Checkoff program, funds from that tax are used to convince consumers that beef from R-CALF USA members' cattle - raised domestically and in compliance with rigorous standards concerning safety, treatment and quality - is no different than beef produced under far less stringent procedures abroad. Click here to view the papers filed against the USDA and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"The Checkoff's implied message that all beef is equal, regardless of where the cattle are born or how they are raised, harms U.S. farmers and ranchers and deceives U.S. citizens," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. "Despite what we know to be clear evidence about the high quality of beef raised by independent U.S. 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."

Under the Checkoff, all Montana cattle producers, including R-CALF USA's members, are required to subsidize the programs of the private Montana Beef Council, which is comprised of individuals closely aligned with some of the largest multinational, industrial cattle producers. In one promotion paid for by the Council, tax money was used to fund an advertising campaign for fast food chain Wendy's, in order to promote a product which could contain beef from 41 different countries. In addition, Checkoff funds have been used to advance the agenda of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association which promotes the idea that "beef is beef, whether the cattle were born in Montana, Manitoba, or Mazatlán."

"This is not only a battle to protect constitutional rights but a battle to ensure that our food supply is not corralled and constrained by multi-national corporations leaving independent farmers and ranchers as mere serfs on their own land," said Co-counsel for R-CALF USA J. Dudley Butler of Butler Farm & Ranch Law Group PLLC.

The group's suit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, alleges the USDA's allocation of Checkoff funds violates the First Amendment by compelling R-CALF USA members to finance the private speech of the Montana Beef Council. The Council encourages a misperception among consumers that harms the business of independent producers. Those non-domestic beef products promoted by the Council, R-CALF USA says, are "less safe and less wholesome than those produced by the organizations' members and originate from cattle not raised using the U.S. cattle industry's rigorous animal husbandry practices" "Tax money being raised here in the U.S. is being used to advertise beef being raised under conditions that are not transparent and that our members have no control over," Bullard added. "We're a non-profit association of proud, independent cattle producers from 43 different states who are committed to the safety and quality of our products. Our ranchers shouldn't have to pay for advertising blitzes benefitting multinational operators that seek to turn our food supply over to huge corporations."

Public Justice, an impact litigation group, is also representing R-CALF USA. David S. Muraskin, a Food Safety and Health Attorney with the organization said that, "The Beef Checkoff program is using federal tax dollars to convince consumers that it does not matter where their dinner came from, or how it was raised. At a time of alarming food recalls and concerns about the health and safety of the food we eat, that's both irresponsible and troubling. This suit demands an end to that deception."

In addition to Butler and Muraskin, R-CALF USA is also represented by Montana attorney Bill Rossbach of Rossbach Law PC.

Editor's Note- this release was provided by R- CALF. An earlier version of this release that was posted did include an Editor's note that tied R-CALF with previous action against the beef checkoff with HSUS. That was not correct, as it was the OCM, the Organization for Competitive Markets that had associated itself with HSUS, not R-CALF in the 2012 litigation against USDA and the Cattlemen's Beef Board. We apologize for that incorrect statement and that story has been removed from our website.

Other groups in the past have sued the USDA and NCBA over the Beef Checkoff, securing help from groups outside the industry that are opposed to modern animal agriculture production. Specifically, the Organization of Competitive Markets partnered with HSUS in the summer of 2012 to sue USDA and others involved with the Beef Checkoff- "At their annual meeting Thursday, the Organization for Competitive Markets announced partnership with the Humane Society of the United States to tackle what they deem "misuse" of beef checkoff funds on the part of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association." (from FarmFutures) In the report, Fred Stokes with OCM explained the ties with HSUS as a positive for cattle producers- saying "the partnership with the HSUS was a means to remedy "the picture of gloom for independent, family agriculture." Stokes explained that discussion about partnership with HSUS began in March during a meeting in Omaha, Neb., when the OCM and others gathered to discuss litigation for improvement of livestock policies and inequities in the marketplace."

Both the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the US Cattlemen's Association released statements condemning the OCM for involving the HSUS in this litigation. Click here for the NCBA release The US Cattlemen Release can be seen by clicking on the PDF file link at the bottom of this story.

At the end of August, 2012, R-CALF did reference the lawsuit in a release and letter that demanded the USDA halt any involvement of the NCBA with the Beef Checkoff. Click here for our treatment of those demands quoting Bill Bullard.

Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays covered the previous most serious legal challenge to the US Beef Checkoff in 2004-2005, when the US Supreme Court heard the arguments about government speech as it pertains to the Beef Checkoff. While Hays was not with RON at that time, there are some good resources from that era that one might check- including an article from Beef Magazine about the Supreme Court arguments (Hays was present for those) and then later this news release from the USDA on the decision that found in favor of the Beef Checkoff by a very strong six to three vote. The case of a decade ago was brought forward by the Livestock Marketing Association and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Click here for more about the decision that was handed down by the US Supreme Court regarding the Beef Checkoff.

It does appear that R-CALF is making a different claim against USDA in this litigation, just filed in Montana. In 2004-2005, the case boiled down to government speech, while this lawsuit seems to suggest that they would like the courts to rule on making domestic producers pay for promotion that may include beef coming into the US from other countries.




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