Tuesday, August 30, 2016

USDA clarifying rule allows ranchers to opt out of beef council checkoffs

The USDA is “clarifying” a little-known policy the agency insists has long been in place allowing ranchers to opt out of allocating half of their checkoff fee payments to qualifying state beef councils, according to a court document. In its Aug. 4 motion in Montana district court, USDA argued that in light of the opt-out policy, the judge should dismiss a case filed by Ranchers-Cattleman Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America challenging the constitutionality of current checkoff fee management. R-CALF alleges the government has forced member cattleman to fund state beef councils that often promote beef in general rather than U.S. beef or beef from their states, in violation of their First Amendment rights. R-CALF has asked that the full $1-per-head checkoff fee paid on cattle sales go to the national Cattleman’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which they agree operates in compliance with the law. R-CALF officials said their suit targets the Montana Beef Council as a test case. Officials of the Montana council declined to comment. USDA believes publicizing the opt-out provision eliminates R-CALF’s “compelled subsidy claim.” “To the extent plaintiff’s members are contributing to the Montana Beef Council against their wishes, they are doing so only because they have failed to avail themselves of this procedure,” the USDA motion reads. Short of a dismissal, USDA requested that the court at least stay the case until after the process of clarifying the policy is complete. Public comment on the proposed clarification rule will be accepted through Sept. 13, and USDA noted R-CALF members are free to participate...more

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