Newly released documents in a lawsuit between a group of independent Montana cattle ranchers and the USDA show that millions of dollars from an industry marketing fund are being diverted to the top cattle lobby, which some ranchers have long claimed misappropriates those funds for political use. The case could reshape how the beef checkoff, as the marketing program is called, is administered.(No paywall)
A group of independent ranchers has expanded its lawsuit against the federal beef checkoff to include 13 more states, arguing that the checkoff violates the First Amendment by requiring ranchers to fund the "private speech" of state beef councils. The Ranchers-Cattlemen Legal Action Fund (R-CALF) filed a supplementary pleading on August 9 that expands its existing lawsuit against Montana's beef checkoff program to include beef checkoff programs in Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s 2017 injunction against the collection of the Montana state beef checkoff in a decision released Monday. The ruling supports ranchers’ claim that the state's beef checkoff program impinges on their First Amendment rights by obligating them to pay taxes to support “private speech.” As the case between the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) and the Department of Agriculture unfolds, it has greater implications for checkoff programs in other states. No paywall
In June 2017, a U.S. District Court judge issued a temporary injunction on the allocation of Montana’s state beef checkoff funds. At a hearing on Monday before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Feedstuffs reports, advocates for independent ranchers faced off against lawyers for the Department …
A new report by the Organization for Competitive Markets, an agricultural antitrust and trade policy research group, and the Ohio Farmers Union suggests that the relationship between the Ohio beef checkoff program and the state Cattlemen’s Association may be cozier than the law permits. (No paywall)
Virginia State Sen. A. Benton Chafin last week introduced a bill that would significantly hike “checkoff” taxes that cattle growers in the state must pay. The move follows efforts in other states to increase or introduce state-level checkoff taxes, which are charged in addition to the $1-per-head tax collected at the federal level. (No paywall)
On a voice vote, the Senate confirmed Gregory Ibach, the state agriculture director in Nebraska, as agriculture undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. Ibach is the third member of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's executive team approved to take office; five slots remain empty.
Big Ag is back on the offensive in Oklahoma, less than a year after voters defeated a bill that would have stripped the state’s residents of their ability to regulate corporate farming. The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association wants ranchers to pay an additional $1 tax per head of cattle sold in the state, and will hold a Nov. 1 vote on the tax for Oklahoma cattle producers. Family farm advocates say that much of the money collected under such checkoff taxes is funneled to private industry groups that use it to promote the interests of corporate agriculture over independent farmers.
Ongoing lawsuits against the producer-funded beef checkoff are part of a drive by activists "to end beef promotion and, ultimately, the production of beef in the United States," says the chief executive of the largest U.S. cattle group. "We might disagree on policy matters within the industry, but it’s another thing entirely to target the volunteer-led state beef councils through unholy alliances with animal rights activists and others intent on driving beef producers out of business," wrote Kendal Frazier of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in an essay on Drovers.
Since 1962, U.S. cranberry growers and processors have been part of a self-financed research and promotion program. The small industry, with an estimated 1,200 growers and 45 handlers in 10 states, has rejected a proposal to allow outside donations to the checkoff program, says USDA after tabulating the votes in a referendum held early this year.
The U.S. attorney's office in Oklahoma City confirmed an investigation is under way in the alleged embezzlement of $2.6 million from the Oklahoma Beef Council, which uses checkoff funds from rancher and feedlot operators to promote beef, says Harvest Public Media. The beef council filed suit last fall to recover the money from a former employee but few details have been made available.
The Agriculture Department is drafting a $1 a head beef checkoff program of its own that would run alongside the current $1 checkoff that is a lightning rod for complaints of favoritism.
The president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Bob McCan, says "there have been honest differences of opinion" over beef checkoff reform during informal discussions among 11 livestock, marketing and import groups. The National Farmers Union has pulled out of the three-year-old discussions, saying consensus was impossible.
With the beef industry unable to agree on reform of the beef checkoff program, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he will act soon on the two biggest issues - adequate funding and the governing structure of the checkoff program. The two issues have been linked throughout three years of fruitless informal discussions among 11 groups representing producers, importers and marketers.
The National Farmers Union withdrew from three years of fruitless discussions for reform of the beef checkoff as "a waste of time and resources." Over the weekend, the NFU board said it was up to the Agriculture Department to respond to beef producer demands for reform. "It is our recommendation that USDA consider rewriting the beef checkoff program under the 1996 generic research and promotion act," said a resolution adopted by the board. NFU is the second-largest U.S. farm group.
The board that oversees the beef check-off program would lose three seats under a reapportionment proposed by USDA in the Federal Register.
"Tempting Europe with Ugly Fruit" is headline of New York Times story about a cooperative in Portugal that buys fruit and vegetables rejected under EU food marketing law and sells the goods to customers by circumvention of labeling requirements.