JUDGE RULES BEEF PROGRAM IS LEGAL
A U.S. District Court judge in Montana Friday ruled the Beef Promotion and Research Act is constitutional, defeating an attempt to halt the national checkoff program. The victory for checkoff supporters comes after an earlier U.S. District Court decision in Michigan that the Pork Production, Research and Consumer Education Act is unconstitutional. The impasse could set up a battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"American beef producers should be very pleased with this decision," said Wythe Willey, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and a beef producer from Cedar Rapids, IA. Willey said the decision by District Judge Richard Cebull strengthens the beef industry's hand in a similar case now in the Eighth Circuit Appellate Court where the constitutionality of the checkoff is being challenged.
"This is a victory for every cattleman in the U.S.," he said. "America's beef producers have prevailed because the national beef checkoff is not only constitutional, but a tremendously successful program that has helped make the industry what it is today. The industry is under severe economic pressure and we can't stop promoting beef."
The challenge to the beef checkoff's constitutionality was raised by Jeanne and Steve Charter of Shepherd, MT, and several individual producers. The case began in 1998 as a noncompliance suit against the Charters. After the Charters lost their administrative appeals through USDA, they turned to federal district court to appeal.
Judge Cebull in his order directed that judgment be entered in favor of USDA, declared the Beef Promotion and Research Act constitutional, and ordered the Charters to pay past-due checkoff assessments and late fees in the amount of $417.79. Judge Cebull dismissed civil penalties levied against the Charters in the amount of $12,000. Defendants in the case are the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the checkoff, and a group of producers who intervened on behalf of the checkoff.
The constitutionality of the checkoff was upheld in two previous court challenges and "leaders in the beef industry are prepared to continue the defense of this important program all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. We are determined to assure beef's place at the dinner table, and we call on dissenters to put aside costly legal battles and join us in focusing on the continued growth of the beef industry," Willey said.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said, ""I am pleased with the ruling from the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana that the Beef Promotion and Research Act is constitutional. This is very good news because the USDA regards such programs, when properly administered, as effective tools for market enhancement. As the judge noted in his opinion, 'Congress has found that beef production plays a significant role in our nation's economy, and that the maintenance and expansion of existing beef markets is vital to the welfare of beef producers.'""