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Beef Board can't force producers to fund generic ads

By The Associated Press

06.24.02

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ABERDEEN, S.D. — A federal judge ruled late last week that the national beef checkoff program violates the constitutional rights of cattle producers by infringing on the First Amendment.

On June 21, U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann ordered a halt to collections for the checkoff program, which requires cattle ranchers to pay a $1 per-head fee on cattle sold in the United States for beef promotion and research.

The decision was expected to be appealed.

In his ruling, Kornmann said cattle producers should not be required to pay for commercials — a form of speech — that they oppose. He also said they are being made to pay for ads that benefit others that sell beef such as restaurants and retail outlets.

The checkoff program, which went into effect in 1985, raises more than $80 million a year. Half the money goes to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board and half to qualified state beef councils. The groups came up with the popular "Beef: It's What's for Dinner" slogan.

Barry Carpenter of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Marketing Service testified last January that the government controls the Beef Board, approving every project it undertakes.

Those opposed to the checkoff are upset that the generic advertisements promote beef in general and not American beef.

"When we initiated checkoff dollars everybody thought we were going to get better prices. But it never helped the U.S. producer," said Bob Thullner, one of the plaintiffs and a cattle producer in Campbell County.

The ruling was not welcome news to everyone.

"This is a very disappointing decision for Montana's cattle producers," said Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. "We are looking forward to a speedy and successful appeal of this decision, but in the meantime are concerned that the judge clearly didn't understand how critical the beef checkoff is to the future of our beef businesses."

In 1999, cattle producers opposing the checkoff submitted thousands of signatures to the U.S. Department of Agriculture requesting a referendum on whether the fee should die. No vote was ever scheduled. The federal court case ensued and was filed in South Dakota because it had the highest percentage of livestock producers who supported a referendum.

Update

USDA seeks stay on beef-checkoff injunction
Meanwhile, in Wyoming, beef council hopes state law will allow it to keep collecting fees for generic ads.  07.09.02

Previous

Judge hears beef over mandatory ad campaign
Cattlemen say promotion fee violates their free-speech rights, but Beef Board says ads are government speech not limited by the First Amendment.  01.17.02

Related

These dairy farmers fed up with 'Got Milk?' promotion
Supreme Court has produced mixed bag of rulings on mandatory ad campaigns for food producers.  04.04.02

Court rulings put mandatory ad campaigns in jeopardy
Analysis Recent federal decisions striking down beef, mushroom promotions could signal legal trouble for other farmer-funded programs.  07.02.02

Pork council wants to know if mandatory ad campaign is constitutional
Group asks federal judge to approve settlement worked out by Bush administration to keep industry-funded research, promotion program going.  07.28.01

High court won't compel mushroom growers to fund generic ads
United Foods had argued that the government’s mandatory campaign forced the company to pay for ads that benefited competitors.  06.25.01

Montana ranch couple challenges beef-promotion fee
Steve and Jeanne Charter say they should not be forced to pay for 'Beef. It's What's for Dinner' ads, other activities.  12.18.00

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