Guest column: Ranchers should have say in how checkoff money is spent

David S. Muraskin
Food Project Attorney, Public Justice

As far as I know, I have never met or spoken to Larry Stomprud, but he has sent letters to the Rapid City Journal, Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, and had a guest column in Farm Forum (“Guest column: Checkoff lawsuit will hamper local control,” Aug. 31, 2018), all attacking me and my organization’s (Public Justice) work with the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF) to reform the Beef Checkoff program. Those letters rely on unsubstantiated attacks on our integrity and misrepresent our work. Let me set the record straight for Mr. Stomprud:

First, I am not, and have never been employed with, compensated by, or a member of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). We don’t receive any money from them.

Public Justice is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring transparency in our food system. We believe that corporations use their money and influence to flood the market with misinformation, which enables them to harm rural communities, farmers, and consumers.

The genius of the First Amendment is that its protections and restrictions apply equally to all. If you don’t protect the rights of people with who you might disagree on some issues, you also lose your own rights.

Multinational companies misrepresenting how they raise their animals should be of concern to those who encourage high welfare meat, and the vast majority of farmers and ranchers. This is proven through multinationals’ efforts to make sure the “Product of the USA” label can be placed on imports.

Public Justice has the great privilege of only taking cases where we believe wholeheartedly in the cause. I will proudly defend the merits of the work we have selected.

And this brings me to the checkoff suit, the facts about which you don’t have quite right. All Public Justice and R-CALF are asking is that ranchers be given the right to choose whether their checkoff money goes to the state councils or the Beef Board and Operating Committee. All producers continue to pay the same amount they used to, we just believe they are entitled to a greater say over who spends that money and how it’s spent. This is what the Constitution requires. This will do no harm to councils that are truly listening to the payers’ voices.

The Montana State Beef Council (against whom we originally filed suit), however, had been using producers’ money to pay for Wendy’s advertisements.

Given your desire for local control and a checkoff responsive to producers, I truly believe we aren’t at odds, and should be allies in this fight against the corruption that has worked its way into the checkoff program. We will stand with R-CALF and its members as long as it takes to make sure they have the tools to which they are entitled to make their voices heard.