Last month a federal judge in Montana upheld an injunction barring the Montana Beef Council from automatically collecting funds from the national beef checkoff program. The judge’s ruling declared the Montana Beef Council a private entity, not under the oversight of USDA, and therefore the beef promotions it funds are not public speech. That means the Montana Beef Council must obtain the consent of Montana producers before utilizing their money. As a result of the ruling, the full assessment will be forwarded to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board for general use on national programs and projects. The Montana Beef Council says it is working through details to develop a process for producers to provide the necessary consent.
The ruling in Montana may have far-reaching implications on the 43 state beef councils. In May, a Utah rancher filed a similar suit in Salt Lake City over the $1 federal and 50-cent Utah state beef checkoff.
The plaintiff in the case says that since the Utah Beef Council is a private entity, it is unconstitutional for Utah’s producers to be compelled to finance public speech.
The plaintiff believes the checkoff violates his constitutional right of freedom of speech. I looks likely that more states will see challenges to their state beef councils.