On May 2, 2016, a national organization, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA), filed a complaint in the District Court for the District of Montana Great Falls Division, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, against Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). R-CALF alleges that the current administration of the federal Beef Checkoff Program in Montana violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by allowing Montana Beef Council (MBC) to use a portion of cattle producers’ assessments paid to the federal beef checkoff to fund promotional campaigns by the MBC, without first obtaining permission in advance from those producers. The Montana Beef Council is not a party in the lawsuit.
On June 21, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris granted R-CALF a preliminary injunction enjoining USDA from continuing to allow MBC to use the assessments that it is qualified to collect under the Beef Checkoff Program to fund its advertising campaigns, unless a cattle producer provides prior affirmative consent authorizing the MBC to retain a portion of the cattle producer’s assessment. As a result of this preliminary injunction, the MBC must begin forwarding all federal Beef Checkoff Program funds directly to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, absent proof that a producer has provided advance affirmative consent authorizing the MBC to retain a portion of that producer’s assessment.
During the Montana Environmental Stewardship Tour of the Cherry Creek Ranch near Terry, MT, the Northern Ag Network’s Russell Nemetz talked with the Montana Stockgrowers Association’s Second Vice President Jim Steinbeisser from Sidney, MT about the preliminary injunction.
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard says “For well over a decade R-CALF USA members fought to reform what we considered a terribly mismanaged national beef checkoff program. And, for well over a decade we faced an impenetrable wall of top-ranking USDA officials whose connections to the multinational meatpackers’ lobby caused them to steadfastly oppose every single reform proposal we advanced”, said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.
The Northern Ag Network’s Russell Nemetz also talked with Bill Bullard about the judge’s decision. R-CALF USA hopes this will be just the first step of correcting over a decade’s worth of beef checkoff program mismanagement.
By law, all producers selling cattle or calves, for any reason and regardless of age or sex, must pay $1-per-head to support beef promotion, research and information through the Beef Promotion and Research Act. Under the Act and the Order, the State Beef Council is legally responsible for collecting monthly assessments and collection of the assessment will continue in Montana.
As a result of the preliminary injunction, after assessments are collected from Montana beef producers, if they do not provide prior affirmative consent to the Montana Beef Council, their full assessment will be forwarded to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board for general use on national programs and projects. MBC is working through the details to develop a process for this Court Order and a way for producers to provide consent. For further information, call the Montana Beef Council at (406) 656-3336 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read the full Montana Beef Council press release see below.
To read the full R-CALF USA press release click here.
Source: Montana Beef Council, R-CALF USA & Northern Ag Network