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U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Checkoff

The Supreme Court has spoken: Mandatory checkoffs (at least those that function like the beef checkoff) do not violate citizens' First Amendment rights to free speech. The news came on Monday when the results of the court's deliberations on the beef checkoff were announced.

The justices overturned a circuit court decision on a 6-3 vote, finding that the messages of mandatory checkoff programs are government speech. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, pointed out numerous ways that the federal government controls board memberships, messages, and even sits in on board meetings.

The legal challenge was brought by the Livestock Marketing Association, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, and three individuals. Defendants in the case included USDA, the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB), and Nebraska Cattlemen, leading a group of producers as interveners in the case.

The beef checkoff has helped increased consumer demand for beef by more than 25% since 1998 through its promotion, research and education programs. This ruling means the programs will continue uninterrupted.

"I am extremely pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the lower courts' decisions and ruled in favor of the beef checkoff program," says Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. "This is certainly a win for the many producers who recognize the power of pooled resources. As this administration has always contended, USDA regards such programs, when properly administered, as effective tools for market enhancement."

A beef checkoff assessment has been collected since 1922 -- first as a voluntary program and then, after the Beef Promotion and Research Act was added to the 1985 Farm Bill, it became mandatory in 1987.

Myron Williams, a Wall, SD, cattleman and chairman of the Federation of State Beef Councils Division of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) says

"It's clear that a majority of cattlemen and agricultural groups recognize that checkoff programs are good for local beef industries and economies."

According to an independent poll released in January, 73% of producers said they support the checkoff program -- an all-time high.

Also showing support, an overwhelming 113 state and national beef industry and general agricultural organizations signed a friend-of-the-court amnicus brief after the Supreme Court accepted the beef checkoff case in May 2004.

"We believe this is a victory for all cattlemen in the U.S.," said Al Svajgr, chairman of the CBB. "Now it is more critical than ever that we come together as an industry to support the checkoff's educational, research and promotional programs aimed at increasing demand for beef at America's dining tables. We would call on the LMA (Livestock Marketing Association) and WORC (Western Organization of Resource Councils) to join us in these efforts, with an eye toward increasing long-term profitability for all segments of our industry."

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