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Injunction interrupts beef checkoff collection: Montana Beef Council will seek permission from payers

BILLINGS, Mont. – On May 2, 2016, a national organization, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, filed a complaint in the District Court for the District of Montana Great Falls Division, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, against Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture for the United States Department of Agriculture. R-CALF alleges that the current administration of the federal Beef Checkoff Program in Montana violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by allowing Montana Beef Council to use a portion of cattle producers' assessments paid to the federal beef checkoff to fund promotional campaigns by the MBC, without first obtaining permission in advance from those producers. The Montana Beef Council is not a party in the lawsuit.

On June 21, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris granted R-CALF a preliminary injunction enjoining USDA from continuing to allow MBC to use the assessments that it is qualified to collect under the Beef Checkoff Program to fund its advertising campaigns, unless a cattle producer provides prior affirmative consent authorizing the MBC to retain a portion of the cattle producer's assessment. As a result of this preliminary injunction, the MBC must begin forwarding all federal Beef Checkoff Program funds directly to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, absent proof that a producer has provided advance affirmative consent authorizing the MBC to retain a portion of that producer's assessment.

The Montana Beef Council was created in 1954 by cattlemen as a marketing organization for the Montana beef industry. It is one of 43 state beef councils. A 12-member board of directors' guides the Montana Beef Council and those members are appointed or elected by membership organizations as follows: Montana Cattlemen's Association, Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana CattleWomen, Montana Livestock Auction Market Association, Montana Cattle Feeder Association, Montana Meat Processors Association, Montana Farmers Union, Montana Farm Bureau Federation, Montana Dairymen, Montana Food Distributors Association and Montana Angus Association.

MBC is organized to protect and increase demand for beef and beef products through state national and international consumer marketing programs thereby enhancing profit opportunities for Montana beef producers. This mission is accomplished through working with a variety of partners who utilize the funding to carry out beef promotion and education activities. Beef promotion partners have included the American Heart Association, Montana State University Bobcats, Montana BBQ Cook-off, Wentana, Wheat Montana and ZooMontana, to name a few.

By law, all producers selling cattle or calves, for any reason and regardless of age or sex, must pay $1-per-head to support beef promotion, research and information through the Beef Promotion and Research Act. Under the Act and the Order, the State Beef Council is legally responsible for collecting monthly assessments and collection of the assessment will continue in Montana.

As a result of the preliminary injunction, after assessments are collected from Montana beef producers, if they do not provide prior affirmative consent to the Montana Beef Council, their full assessment will be forwarded to the Cattlemen's Beef Board for general use on national programs and projects. MBC is working through the details to develop a process for this Court Order and a way for producers to provide consent. For further information, call the Montana Beef Council at (406) 656-3336 or email chaley@montanabeefcouncil.org.