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July 09, 2003   Email to Friend 

COURT RULES BEEF CHECKOFF VIOLATES FIRST AMENDMENT
Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
July 09, 2003

DENVER-- In a case that could have far-reaching implications for the American beef industry, a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 8 that the Beef Promotion and Research Act violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

At the same time, the court said the program may continue while the parties decide whether to ask the full Circuit Court to reconsider the decision.

"We are deeply disappointed in the court's ruling today, but remain committed to our goal of protecting the future of the beef checkoff," said Eric Davis, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and a beef producer from Bruneau, Idaho." The beef checkoff is absolutely critical to protecting the long-term marketing climate for beef," he said. "Without the checkoff and its 'Beef. It's What's For Dinner' consumer promotions, the beef industry would not be as successful as it is today."

The stay of the trial court's injunction that has been in effect since the case was appealed to the Eight Circuit Court will remain in effect while the government and the pro-checkoff intervenors decide whether to ask the full panel of judges of the Eighth Circuit to rehear the case. Both national and state beef checkoff programs remain in operation and collections will continue.

"This ruling is not unexpected," Davis said. "Throughout the lengthy litigation process, we have anticipated that this decision would ultimately need to be made by the U.S. Supreme Court." He said, "America's beef producers can rest assured we will see this through to the end. Despite this court's decision, we believe in the merits of our case and in the merits of the beef checkoff. We are confident the checkoff will ultimately prevail."

Davis pointed out that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Montana is currently considering an appeal on a similar challenge to the checkoff where the District Court ruled that the Beef Checkoff was constitutional. In addition, Davis noted that the two other Circuit Courts that have considered First Amendment challenges to the Beef Act -- the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia and the 10th Circuit in Denver -- both found the Beef Act to be constitutional.

This challenge to the beef checkoff's constitutionality was filed by the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA), the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) and a few individual producers. Defendants in the case are the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the checkoff, and Nebraska Cattlemen, Inc., which is leading a group of pro-checkoff producers that intervened to support the checkoff.

In independent surveys, a majority of producers have demonstrated support for the $1-per-head checkoff every year since Congress launched it in 1986, said Gary Sharp, a beef producer from Bath, S.D., and an intervener in the lawsuit. "The court's decision today thwarts the will of the majority in response to the complaints of a vocal minority," he said. The checkoff has not changed in the 17 years since Congress launched it, Sharp said -- it has always been producer-directed with USDA oversight.

"Members of the beef industry aren't the only ones who see the value of the beef checkoff," Davis said. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice also stand behind the program and have pledged to aggressively defend it. We believe that means we can expect them to ultimately appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court, if that becomes necessary."

"We believe that our appeal will show the facts and law support the constitutionality of a mandatory assessment program that helps to protect and enhance the market demand for our cattle."


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