Courts to rule on checkoffs legality

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – At least two courts are being asked to determine, once and for all, whether or not commodity checkoffs are constitutional.

The Livestock Marketing Association is amending its initial complaint seeking a beef checkoff referendum, to ask a federal district court whether the checkoff is unconstitutional.

And on Monday, the National Pork Producers Council and the Michigan Pork Association requested a federal district judge determine the constitutionality of the pork checkoff.

Beef stew. According to the Livestock Marketing Association, the court requested it and the other parties – the USDA, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the Nebraska Cattlemen association – to address the constitutionality of the beef checkoff in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the mushroom checkoff case.

In a June 25 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that forcing mushroom producers and handlers to pay for advertising is invalid under the First Amendment. The district court asked both sides for their views on that case, saying that if the beef checkoff is unconstitutional, it doesn’t make sense to conduct a referendum.

Apples and apples. “We believe that as a matter of law, the beef and mushroom checkoffs are alike,” said association president Patrick Goggins.

Goggins noted that when the mushroom checkoff case was before the Supreme Court, both USDA and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which joined in an “amicus curiae” brief, took the position that the mushroom decision would affect the future of the beef checkoff.

“That’s the issue which we’re now presenting to the South Dakota court,” he said.

Apples and oranges. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Lynn Cornwell disagrees.

“The differences between the mushroom program and the beef checkoff are as significant as the difference between mushrooms and beef,” Cornwell said.

The pork council is already seeking a ruling on the legality of the settlement agreement between it and the USDA, following a botched referendum. The council amended its complaint to request the court declare the pork checkoff doesn’t violate the First Amendment.

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