Beef checkoff petition denied


ST. LOUIS – Another court ruling brings more questions about the future of the $1/head beef checkoff.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals declined Friday, Oct. 17, to revisit a July decision that ruled the current beef checkoff program unconstitutional.

Will not be reheard. The U.S. Department of Justice had asked for a rehearing by the full court. The earlier decision, which upheld a lower court decision, was made by a three-judge panel.

The department of justice is representing the USDA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board in the suit.

Good news. “Two federal courts have now reviewed this issue,” said Livestock Marketing Association President Billy Perrin, “and have found the checkoff violates producers’ free speech rights.

“We hope that the government will now allow this decision to take effect.”

Cases mushroomed. In June, 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory assessments under the mushroom act violated the First Amendment rights of mushroom producers by making them support speech to which they were opposed.

In that case, the United States acknowledged that the mushroom act and the Beef Promotion and Research Act were “substantively identical.”

A year later, a U.S. District Court in South Dakota applied the Supreme Court ruling to the beef checkoff, and struck down the beef act as unconstitutional.

That decision was appealed and in July of this year, the Court of Appeals upheld the earlier ruling.

Defendants have long claimed that generic advertising under the beef checkoff program is “government speech” and not subject to First Amendment demands. The government, the USDA’s briefs argue, has “ultimate responsibility” for content, and the program is mandated by Congress.

The Department of Justice can also seek review of the case by the Supreme Court.

$1/head assessment. Cattle producers are required to pay a $1 per head assessment on all cattle sold. The payment is collected and remitted directly to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board or a qualified state beef council to pay for beef promotion and education programs.

Checkoff assessments continued to be collected during this appeal.

A total of $47.7 million in projected checkoff revenue was slated for the fiscal 2004 program budget, which began Oct. 1.

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