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Allied groups cheer checkoff's constitionality


Washington — Food animal veterinarians and industry experts applaud recent Supreme Court actions favoring beef and pork checkoff programs.

WASHINGTON — Food animal veterinarians and industry experts applaud recent Supreme Court actions favoring beef and pork checkoff programs.

Dr. Gatz Riddell

In June, Supreme Court justices ruled that the government was within its rights to force beef producers to pay for the "Beef: It's what's for dinner" marketing campaign, despite objections to mandatory advertising fees. The decision declared the $80-million annual tax constitutional; the beef campaign is a form of "government speech" immune to First Amendment challenge, the court says.

In light of the decision, justices set aside an appeals court ruling declaring pork checkoff unconstitutional and returned it with instructions for reconsideration.

While the veterinary profession feels no direct impact, the checkoff program "makes for a more viable beef and swine industry," says Dr. Gatz Riddell, executive vice president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

"Our profession views the checkoff as being very positive," he says.

Industry support

So does the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the biggest employee of the beef checkoff program. The group reports the checkoff has helped grow consumer demand for beef more than 25 percent since 1998 and has increased the prices for cattle.

"We are elated," NCBA President Jim McAdams says in a prepared statement. "This is a victory for all producers who want demand-building efforts in beef safety, nutrition and promotion continued."

'Big relief'

The American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) expects similar work to continue as part of pork checkoff-funded initiatives. But the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati must first review its decision that the pork program is unconstitutional, taking into account the Supreme Court's ruling regarding the beef checkoff. The National Pork Board collects the checkoff and oversees administration of promotion, research and education programs supported by the tax.

Stakeholders are "overjoyed," AASV Executive Director Dr. Tom Burkgren says.

"It's hard to imagine the void that would be left if the checkoff and National Pork Board went away," he says. "We couldn't replace that. It would be a devastating blow to the industry."

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