Supreme Court to decide beef checkoff


SALEM, Ohio – The third time will be a charm, but it’s unclear whether beef checkoff supporters or naysayers will prevail in the fight threatening to end the federal beef checkoff.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed May 24 to hear an appeal that will determine the fate of the “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.” marketing campaign and the beef checkoff that funds it.

Thirty state attorneys general, along with Puerto Rico, asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and 48 industry organizations signed a brief supporting the court’s review.

Going once, twice. The appeal comes to the Supreme Court after the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said the checkoff, or the federal Beef Promotion and Research Act, violated the First Amendment.

In June 2002, the Livestock Marketing Association, the Western Organization of Resource Councils and a few individual producers challenged the USDA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board in a South Dakota district court.

That court said the checkoff violated the First Amendment because it requires beef producers to pay for ‘speech’ to which they object.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that checkoff programs were government speech and therefore an exception to the First Amendment.

The 8th Circuit appellate court upheld that ruling.

Expected. “This decision was expected,” said Bob Rolston, an Englewood, Colo., cattleman and chairman of the Federation of State Beef Councils Division of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“Throughout the lengthy litigation process, we anticipated that the decision would ultimately be made by the U.S. Supreme Court. What’s more, we believe in the merits of the beef checkoff and are confident that it eventually will prevail.”

Not surprised. The Livestock Marketing Association wasn’t surprised either.

“The U.S. Supreme Court typically hears cases when federal statutes are ruled unconstitutional when requested to do so by the government. Therefore, the court’s decision to review the beef checkoff case is not unexpected,” said Billy Perrin, president of the association.

Perrin said the association feels it will be victorious in the court’s decision.

“We remain confident that our position will eventually prevail, a position upheld by four federal judges in two separate federal courts,” he said.

Doesn’t look good? Perrin stressed the USDA’s defense of government speech has been rejected by three other federal appeals courts in the pork, dairy and Louisiana alligator checkoffs, making the marketing association’s outlook even brighter.

“A commodity checkoff program is not above the law, and it cannot strip America’s cattle producers of their constitutional rights. That position is at the heart of this case, and it will be upheld again,” Perrin said.

Support. Cattlemen have supported a checkoff assessment since 1922.

The beef checkoff program was mandated in the 1985 Farm Bill and requires beef producers to remit $1 per head at the time of sale for promotion and research programs to improve the marketing climate for beef.

The checkoff is collected by qualified state beef councils, which retain up to 50 cents of every dollar.

The balance of checkoff dollars is forwarded to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board at the national level.

Court records said checkoff revenues in fiscal year 2001 totaled more than $86 million.

Still going. The $1-per-head assessment will continue throughout the upcoming proceedings.

The final Supreme Court ruling is expected in the first half of 2005.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at

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