The Beef Checkoff: Racing to consumers amid increasing pressures
Driving demand for beef, according to Cattlemen’s Beef Board CEO Greg Hanes, is the goal of the Beef Checkoff, but research and connection to consumers, he said, is the name of the game as the industry faces pressures and consumers are faced with a growing number of protein choices.
In addition to continuing its original mission and programs, one of the internal pressures facing the national Beef Checkoff is paying the attorney’s fees and litigation costs as ordered in Montana District Court. However, perhaps more notable is the firm being paid those fees.
Public Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based firm representing RCALF-USA in a suit against the USDA, et al, has in their corner Food Project Litigation Director David S. Muraskin.
Muraskin, according to the group’s website, focuses on impact litigation to promote sustainable alternatives to the industrial animal agriculture system. He has worked on constitutional, consumer, worker, and environmental cases. Among his highest profile cases, are ag-gag cases in Wyoming in which he served as lead counsel.
The laws, designed to curtail the recording, possession, or distribution of photos, video, and audio of activities on farms, also protect the private property rights and biosecurity of agriculture operations.
In a statement regarding a court finding the Wyoming statutes unconstitutional, Muraskin said, “This is a sweeping victory for the First Amendment, and a scathing rebuke of the industrial agriculture industry’s brazen attempt to hide the ways factory farms impact communities and the environment. Wyoming’s attempt to silence and intimidate citizens, advocates and the media has now met the same demise as similar laws in Idaho and Utah, sending a clear message to industrial agriculture’s lobbyists that their dependence on secrecy to sell their product will not survive. These laws are unjust and unconstitutional, and we’ll continue to fight them from coast to coast until they have all been defeated or repealed.”
The decision was applauded by the Western Watersheds Project, the Natural Resources Defense Council, PETA, and other nonprofits.
Bill Bullard, the CEO of RCALF-USA said the organization has used Muraskin as counsel dating back to an original COOL suit filed in Federal District court in Washington. Bullard said Muraskin was chosen because he had an interest in Country of Origin Labeling. That particular case, he said, had exceeded the statute of limitations and couldn’t progress.
The checkoff lawsuit followed filed in Federal District Court in Montana, and Bullard said based on Muraskin’s practice area specialization in constitutional law, he was the choice. RCALF-USA has, he said, used Muraskin’s office, Public Justice, for an additional pair of cases, one filed regarding the checkoff in federal district court in D.C., and another in New Mexico filed against the major packers alleging they were violating the state’s false advertising statute. That court ruled that the state was preempted from false advertising claims because the government had authority under the Federal Meat Inspection Act over labeling and advertising.
“The decision, we realized, that the government does not have authority over false advertising meat products, their authority is limited only to labels on the meat products themselves,” Bullard said. “We filed an amicus brief with Public Justice in that case, so we have three pending cases and one case that has been resolved.”
Bullard said Public Justice and Muraskin are exceptional attorneys. Although Muraskin has in the past represented anti-agriculture causes, Bullard said he is, in the cases with RCALF-USA, representing the independent cattle producer’s constitutional rights and in the prevention of vertical integration. As for claims of using an attorney who might be labeled anti-agriculture, Bullard said the same could be said of RCALF-USA, who are fighting big ag in the courts in the form of the big four packers.
“One has to distinguish between agriculture and a system that benefits the independent producer, and a system that transfers profits away from the independent producer to the industrialized agribusiness,” he said. “That’s the distinction we draw and that anyone who is concerned about us using someone who shares that view…this is our side of the issue. We want to promote and sustain the family farm system of agriculture. Corporate agribusinesses are trying to vertically integrate our industry, and we’re fighting to stop them, and Public Justice has been helping us.”
The $150,000 in legal fees that was awarded to RCALF-USA, Bullard said, likely pales in comparison to the amount the national Beef Checkoff is paying in legal fees on behalf of their state affiliates that have convened in the case. Altogether, these lawsuits add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in checkoff dollars being paid for both sides.
As far as the Checkoff Referendum that Bullard said will allow producers to vote whether or not to maintain the Beef Checkoff program, signatures are still being gathered.
“We need 89,000 signatures, and though the numbers are growing day by day, it’s a challenge to get that many producers who actually pay the checkoff. We’ve gone to USDA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and asked them to help simply by sharing the list they’ve gathered of beef checkoff-paying producers and they declined to assist us.”
A spokesperson for the CBB said their office does not have access to such a sharable list.
Even while paying legal fees and other administrative costs associated with legal disputes, the Beef Checkoff continues to follow the law that put it in place, Hanes said.
“The checkoff continues every day to be innovative in promotion, research, and education to reach our consumers,” he said. “We had to be particularly creative during the past year, as restaurants were closed, people couldn’t gather together, and things moved online rather than in person.”
A major Beef Checkoff event that illustrates that creativity was the Daytona International Speedway Xfinity season opener, the Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner 300.
The sponsored event on Feb. 13 was funded by Federation of State Beef Councils for $350,000 — a discounted cost after a title sponsor fell out at the last minute, allowing the checkoff to take advantage of the nationally televised event. For that investment, there were more than 850 stories about the race on mainstream news outlets like Yahoo! Finance, ESPN and USA Today, reaching millions of readers and viewers. The event, and beef, were featured on the billboard over Times Square six times over two days prior to the event, and there were 12,500 posts on social media before, during, and after the event. The event, according to Hanes, was timely as it took place during the pandemic when television viewership was up, with people looking for alternative entertainment.
“We hear all the time that we don’t have enough Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner ads on television anymore,” Hanes said. “Well, this did that, and was able to be shared and broadened to capture chefs, mass media, NASCAR fans, and viewers who were stuck at home in the middle of our national closures.”
In all, the promotion began weeks prior to the event and with the additional media support with chef influencers and social media, the event netted millions of viewers and engaged consumers.
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