August 26, 2021

Court Rules Beef Checkoff as Constitutional

Court Rules Beef Checkoff as Constitutional 

By: Sydney Sheffield

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) lost the challenge they brought against the Beef Checkoff. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed the constitutionality of the program. R-CALF claimed the program violated the First Amendment. 

The case began in 2016 when a case was filed in Montana by R-CALF, who alleged the use of industry assessments collected by state beef councils for advertising and promotional materials was a violation of the First Amendment rights of beef producers. In 2018 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) entered a Memorandum of Understanding with many state beef councils which gave USDA the ability to approve or reject any of the Qualified State Beef Council’s (QSBCs) promotional activities. Based on the new MOUs, in 2020, a court ruled that the QSBCs operating under the MOU do not violate the First Amendment and the lawsuit was dismissed. R-CALF then appealed the ruling, leading to the recent ruling. 

The agreements with QSBCs, include Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

“The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals awarded USDA and several QSBCs with a long-awaited victory,” says Colin Woodall, CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). “A three-judge panel rejected R-CALF’s argument that the work of QSBCs wasn’t receiving adequate government oversight, finding that the government speech of QSBCs and their contractors is properly overseen by USDA.”

Though disappointed with the outcome, Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF, stated, “The district court agreed that our concern had merit and granted us a preliminary injunction. In response, the USDA instituted new measures to correct its constitutional violation,” Bullard said. “Though we are obviously disappointed with this final ruling, we did, in fact, successfully reform the beef checkoff program."

While the verdict marks the end of this legal battle, R-CALF has filed a separate lawsuit in the federal district court for the District of Columbia. The lawsuit alleges that the USDA did not have the authority to enter the MOUs because there was no public notice nor comment period.