Opinion: Check-off lawsuit

Hans Mcpherson Montana Farm Bureau President
Thursday, January 10, 2019

Does R-CALF USA really hate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) so much that they are willing to form an alliance with the number-one enemy of animal agriculture? Let’s review what the Beef Check-off lawsuit is about.

In 1986 the Congress and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) enacted the Beef Check-off ($1 per head) at the request of cattle producers to promote beef demand worldwide. This $1 per head was for all cattle sold in the United States and as well as one-dollar-per-head equivalent on all the beef imported to the United States. The Check-off money was to first go to the Qualified State Beef Councils. At least 15 State Beef Councils are governed by farmers and ranchers with funds audited and overseen by the USDA. Montana is a state with a Beef Council governed by the producers. The Montana Beef Council consists of members appointed by each agricultural organization that certifies at least 250 members state wide. Montana Farm Bureau‘s representative on this council is Shawmut rancher Jimmy Taber. Other Beef Councils are governed by the state, and members are appointed politically. Each state Beef Council keeps 50 cents and forwards the federal 50 cents to Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB). The CBB is governed and appointed by the USDA. Montana is represented on the CBB board by Turk Stovall, Katie Cooper and Lynda Grande.

The other half of the national equation is the Federation of State Beef Councils. Montana has four members on this council elected from the Montana Beef Council. Together, the Federation of Beef Councils and the CBB decide how to best spend the federal share of the Check off dollars to build demand for beef, often times in cooperation with state Beef Councils pooling their money to get more bang for the buck. These have included the successful national “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” campaign as well as ads and displays with food retailers or restaurant chains to promote beef. Montana Farm Bureau has received grants from the Montana Beef Council to promote our Animal Care Campaign with roadside signs, billboards and bus signage. This all sounds great, right?

Why does R-CALF hate the NCBA? Years ago, R-CALF apparently wanted to be a contractor for the national Beef Board. At that time, to be a contractor, you had to be in existence before 1986, when the Checkoff was passed in the Farm Bill. Because R-CALF was formed after 1986, they were ineligible and the CBB and Federations of Beef Councils changed the rules to allow R-CALF to become a contractor. Happy, right? Well, the only hang-up now was all contractors of the Beef Checkoff dollars on a national level had to have their books audited by the USDA. You can draw your own conclusions as to why R-CALF dropped their pursuit of being a national contractor.

Why the lawsuit? On May 2, 2016 R-CALF filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in Great Falls, Montana against Tom Vilsack, then Secretary of Agriculture, claiming that R-CALF’s 375 members in Montana were being burdened because the Montana Beef Council campaigns like “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” did not differentiate between American and imported beef. Although the Federal law states that the Beef Checkoff will only promote beef generically because it was set up to have ranchers and beef importers pay into the checkoff fund. The district judge ruled to at least temporarily deny the Montana Beef Council from receiving their share of the Beef Check off dollars, essentially crippling them.

So why is this so scary? Ask where is the money coming from? Lawsuits and staff costs money. Follow the money and you’ll see that R-CALF joined forces with an organization called the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM). Disturbingly, OCM has some staff that were former employees of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). They show under IRS-990 form that they have a budget of $25,000. Do you think you could rent office space and hire staff for only $25,000? I don’t think so either. Next, look at the law firms associated with the lawsuits. According to the Drovers magazine October 2018, the OCM works closely with the anti-animal agriculture HSUS.

The evidence shows clear links between OCM, HSUS and R-CALF that dates back several years. The commonality link is with Public Justice, a Washington, DC law firm that specializes in activist lawsuits. R-CALF’s IRS 990 form shows a budget of $400,000 with most going to salaries. Public Justice’s annual revenue is $4.8 million and the Humane Society of the United States is $126 million.

I’m sure if you confront R-CALF they will deny their HSUS connection; however, the CEO of HSUS has posted on her blog that they have formed a partnership with R-CALF. If you keep peeling back the onion, the lawsuit in Montana, now expanded to 14 other states, is about HSUS trying to take down the Beef Check off and the NCBA because they believe if both are diminished they can advance their anti-meat agenda in the public and political arena. They have found a willing partner in R-CALF.

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