Supreme Court denies cattle producers’ group appeal on checkoff

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 27 denied R-CALF USA’s petition requesting an appeal of the first of two lawsuits the group had filed against the operation of the mandatory beef checkoff program, the organization announced in a news release.

The first lawsuit had previously been dismissed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case was originated by the Montana Beef Council and other qualified state beef councils that alleged checkoff dollars were subsidizing free speech and in effect government speech.

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard issued the following statement in response to the effective end of its first lawsuit, “While obviously disappointed that our effort to force even more needed reforms upon the beef checkoff program has ended in our first of two lawsuits, we are grateful for the important reforms we did achieve for U.S. cattle producers.”

Buller said reforms will make a difference. “Specifically, we set out to stop the U.S. Department of Agriculture from unconstitutionally compelling U.S. cattle producers to fund the private speech of private state beef councils.”

The beef checkoff was created during the 1985 farm bill and the checkoff assessment was made mandatory in 1988 national referendum. A $1 per head fee is assessed on live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States may retain up to 50 cents of the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was pleased with the denial as it says it ends R-CALF’s lawsuit against 13 state beef councils and the Beef Checkoff.

“For too long we have allowed R-CALF and their attorneys to divide our industry and draw attention away from the important job of beef promotion and research. The Supreme Court’s rejection of R-CALF’s petition confirms the Beef Checkoff, and its overseers, are adhering to the letter and spirit of the laws that protect and guide producer investments in the program,” stated NCBA CEO Colin Woodall in a news release.

NCBA intervened in the lawsuit in its early days to help defend state beef councils from R-CALF and activist attorneys, who they say wrongly attack state beef councils and the cattlemen and women who volunteer their time to support the industry as checkoff leaders. Multiple court decisions rejected these allegations and reaffirmed the work and direction of the Beef Checkoff and those who guide it.

Bullard remain undeterred.

“We largely succeeded in that effort early in our case,” Bullard stated. “In response to our lawsuit, the USDA took steps to assume necessary control over the speech of the state beef councils identified in our case to limit their ability to express private messages with the money that cattle producers are mandated to pay into the program.

“The district court found that those corrective steps taken by the USDA effectively transformed the preliminary injunction R-CALF USA had initially won into the lasting outcome the group had sought—‘an end to USDA’s allegedly unconstitutional government-compelled subsidy of speech.’”

Bullard said R-CALF USA will focus on achieving additional reforms in the second lawsuit that alleges the USDA violated the law when it entered into agreements with numerous state beef councils to assume control over those councils’ messaging.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].