WASHINGTON, June 22, 2017 – A judge has upheld a ruling in a case stemming from a dispute over advertisements promoting North American beef.

The ruling came down on Wednesday. U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris upheld a decision from a lower court that ruled mandatory contribution to the Montana Beef Council was in violation of the First Amendment.

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF-USA) filed the suit after the Montana Beef Council helped fund advertising for fast food retailer Wendy’s promoting North American beef. R-CALF USA argued that its members, and other producers in favor of promoting only U.S. beef with their checkoff dollar, were being required to support speech they opposed due to the mandatory nature of the beef checkoff.

"Yesterday, after a meaningful, law-based evaluation of our concerns, we won,” R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said in a statement. “We hope this will be just the first step of correcting over a decade's worth of beef checkoff program mismanagement."

Beef producers pay into the checkoff at an assessment rate of $1 per head sold in the U.S. Typically, half of that money is sent to the Checkoff Beef Board (CBB) and added to a national fund, and the other half is contributed to a qualifying state beef council.

The judge ruled that the government “violates the First Amendment when it compels a citizen to subsidize the private speech of a private entity” without receiving the contributor’s “affirmative consent.” As part of the ruling, an injunction temporarily prohibits the Montana Beef Council from retaining checkoff contributions without consent of the assessed producer. The beef checkoff is a mandatory checkoff, so non-consenting producers can have their assessment submitted in full to the CBB.

The Montana Beef Council was not technically a party in the lawsuit (it was officially brought against the Secretary of Agriculture), but Chaley Harney, the council’s executive director, said in an email to Agri-Pulse that they are “aware of the order that was issued and working to understand the implications with the limited information we have at this time.”


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