Checkoff: Court Affirms Ruling in Lawsuit, Referendum Petition Extended
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the district court ruling in favor of the Beef Checkoff. R-CALF USA originally challenged certain mandatory assessments on cattle sales imposed by federal law that are used to fund advertisements for beef products.
In 2020, a federal court ruled that the qualified state beef checkoff (QSBC) programs operating under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the USDA do not violate the First Amendment and dismissed the lawsuit brought by R-CALF.
The agreements with qualified state beef councils, 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.
R-CALF- USA, CEO, Bill Bullard, says while they are disappointed in the final outcome, their case did force the reform of the National Beef Checkoff Program. “These reforms are significant,” he says. “They corrected a long-standing violation, a violation of first amendment rights of cattle producers. That, we can be thankful for, that we at least made that positive step on the behalf of cattle producers.”
He says the case established that the Beef Checkoff operated for decades in violation of the Constitution and the Secretary of Agriculture took steps to correct the violation by asserting more governmental controls over the speech of the various state beef checkoff councils through the recently executed Memorandum of Understandings. Bullard says they were unable to get any traction for their argument that the MOUs were insufficient at the 9th Circuit, but they do have another case pending in front of the district court in Washington, DC alleging that the USDA did not follow the law when it executed the MOUs.
As for the Petition for Referendum, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote to the organizers of the National Beef Checkoff Petition Drive, granting them until October 3 to collect the necessary signatures calling for a producer vote of the National Beef Checkoff Program.
The petition drive began July 2, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Agriculture Department originally established a 12-month period for the collection of the required 88,269 signatures. Petition organizers had to rely on an online petition site, http://www.checkoffvote.com, which has collected less than 20,000 signatures.
Instead of the requested year-long extension, Vilsack granted a 60-day extension beyond the date of his letter. Vilsack wrote, “While the period for collecting signatures is not specified in the Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 (Act), USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) established a 12-month timeframe based on experience and precedent with previous petitions. AMS granted you flexibility in allowing the use of an online petition tool to collect signatures to accommodate social distancing and non-contact protocols. However, given the extenuating circumstance of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated challenges, I am granting a 60-day extension from the date of this letter. This allows for additional flexibility while still maintaining a petition process that reflects the prevailing will of producers. The end of your collection period will now be October 3, 2021. You have 30 additional days from October 3, 2021, to submit those signatures to AMS.”
That site, located at www.checkoffvote.com, currently has 18,924 signed petitions. Please go to the site to sign the petition or you may request a paper petition be mailed to you by calling the KCA office at 785-238-1483.