Monday, October 24, 2016

Beef Checkoff goes on trial Tuesday in Montana

The Beef Checkoff is up Tuesday for a federal court hearing where anything could happen from dismissal of the challenging lawsuit to a temporary restraining order for the plaintiff’s. The Beef Checkoff refers to money for marketing and research, including food safety research, to promote the cattle industry. The Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 gives the Secretary of Agriculture the power to impose a $1 per head charge each time cattle are sold. The latest challenge to the Beef Checkoff was filed May in U.S. District Court in Great Falls, MT. The Billings, MT, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund of the Stockgrowers of America – usually referred to as R-CALF, sued Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack over program details. The $1 per head Checkoff is split between a national fund, known as the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Fund, and a qualified state beef council (QSBC), in most states. R-CALF sued, claiming the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not have a “procedure by which a cattle producer who disagrees with the Montana Beef Council’s message.” However, attorneys for USDA said such a procedure does exist and there is an opt-out option that was found consistent with the First Amendment. In a 2005 Supreme Court case, promotions like those funded by the Montana Beef Council, were found to be “government speech” and therefore legal. R-CALF attorneys are telling Judge Morris that the Montana Beef Council is not sufficiently under USDA control for the 2005 standard to apply to it. The Supreme Court found that “compelled funding of government speech does not alone raise First Amendment concerns” and there is no right not to fund government speech...more

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