Judge Sides with Independent Beef Producers in Checkoff Case

December 12, 2016 06:13 PM

A U.S. magistrate judge is siding with independent beef producers in their challenge over the way beef is marketed in Montana.

Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America — or R-CALF USA — challenged the fact that half of the $1-per-head federal tax on cattle sales collected in Montana is used by the privately incorporated Montana Beef Council.

The Montana Beef Council collects the checkoff dollars and sends half the money to the Cattlemen's Beef Board, a national promotional group.

Public Justice attorney David Muraskin, who represented R-CALF in its complaint against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, argued independent producers were being forced to subsidize the council's promotions, which do not distinguish between domestic and foreign beef.

U.S. Magistrate John Johnston on Monday recommended that U.S. District Judge Brian Morris grant a preliminary injunction to prevent the Montana Beef Council from keeping checkoff money without prior consent from individual ranchers.

Since 1985, beef producers have paid the checkoff fee to promote the marketing and consumption of beef. The Montana Beef Council received more than $870,000 in beef checkoff money between October 2014 and September 2015, the R-CALF USA complaint said.

R-CALF USA argued its producers comply with the United States' rigorous safety and quality standards, but have no standing to encourage the Montana Beef Council to market beef raised in the U.S. separately. The group includes cattle ranchers and feedlot operators in 42 states. R-CALF USA has 375 voting members in Montana.

Johnston's recommendation protects ranchers' First Amendment rights, Muraskin said.

"It allows them to ensure their money actually supports domestic operations rather than these multinational organizations that have taken over the beef checkoff in Montana," he said.

Chaley Harney, the executive director of the Montana Beef Council, had not read the recommendation and declined to comment on Monday.

The USDA has 14 days to file an objection to Johnston's recommendation.

The Department of Justice, which is representing the USDA and Vilsack, declined to comment on the ongoing litigation, spokeswoman Nicole Navas said.

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Spell Check

Celestine, IN
12/13/2016 01:03 AM

  Good Job! Now we just have to convince our Political Representatives to support COOL and American Raised Products to Start Working for Americans and NOT the WTO.

Tante Cindy
Hutchinson, MN
12/14/2016 09:23 AM

  Jim, while I too supported COOL, it is not coming back any time soon. It was held to be in violation of terms to a legally binding agreement to which the US is a signator. In order to re-instate COOL rules, that agreement must first be abrogated. Even if such action is taken, the countries that remain signatories to the agreement are still able to declare the COOL rules protectionist & take tariff action against the US. This is why the majority of beef producers sought the removal of the COOL rules. Their first concern is profitability, & that includes exports. Given the investment these producers have in their operations, this is only fair - not something I like, but accept as reasonable. In the mean time, there are ways to work around this. For example, I never buy produce out of season - there is far too much imported to the US. I also partonize a grocer who only purchases beef & pork produced in our region of the US. If you are not in a position to grow your own - as I am now - then talk to your grocer and/or butcher. They should be able to answer your questions where their offerings are produced. If they can't, consider a different provider. COOL would be nice, and would let us be a bit lazy - but we can't really complain when a bit of effort on our part can do all that the rule did - without the penalties & controversies.

Tante Cindy
Hutchinson, MN
12/14/2016 09:37 AM

  [I omitted my conclusion.] We need the producers to be able to pursue their activities in a manner that allows them to provide not only for us, but for themselves, & their employees. Solutions do not lie in one extreme or the other. They lie in working co-operatively and seeking compromise. (NB: This is true of most all things.) Rules governing production, so long as they do not propose that we do away with water, air & sunshine, are not absolutes & ought best be determined by negotiation & compromise.


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