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U.S. Supreme Court to decide constitutionality of long-standing beef check-off program


WASHINGTON -The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether or not the beef checkoff program violates the U.S. Constitution.

WASHINGTON -The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether or not the beef checkoff program violates the U.S. Constitution.

And while the impact to veterinary medicine is negligible, DVMs are watching its outcome closely, officials report.

The court opted to hear the appeal of the 8th Circuit Appellate Court ruling that found the federal Beef Promotion and Research Act in violation of the First Amendment.

The legal combatants are the National Cattlemen's Beef Association versus the Livestock Marketing Association and the Western Organization of Resource Councils and various organizations. Both sides say they are pleased with the court's decision to hear the case.

The Supreme Court ruling is expected in the first half of 2005.

Dr. Jim Jarrett, executive vice president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) says it's an important case for all of the agricultural industries that check-off programs serve.

Jarrett adds, "As an association, generally we are in support of any program that helps promote products from animal agriculture." But Jarrett says the association has not taken a position on the legal fight.

While check-off dollars do not necessarily affect specific animal health agricultural programs, they do impact quality efforts as it relates to food safety, Jarrett says.

"As food-animal veterinarians, we are very interested in the success of our clients. I personally lean very much toward the conservative side, and I don't like to see government involved in a lot of things. But I feel strongly that veterinarians work with industry to promote the quality of the products they produce. And in some cases, like with milk, we are losing ground," Jarrett explains. "We are in the beverage business, and as such, we have to compete with soft drink companies like Coca-Cola." Jarrett adds that a collective, industry-wide promotion is good overall and much more effective than individual producer marketing efforts.

NCBA contends the checkoff has helped grow consumer demand for beef more than 16 percent since 1998 and has increased the prices that producers receive for their cattle.

"This decision was expected," says Bob Rolston, an Englewood, Colo., cattleman and chairman of the Federation of State Beef Councils Division of NCBA. "Throughout the lengthy litigation process, we anticipated that the decision ultimately would be made by the U.S. Supreme Court. What's more, we believe in the merits of the beef checkoff and are confident that it eventually will prevail."

In a prepared statement, WORC adds that independent cattle producers are looking forward to a final decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the mandatory beef checkoff program.

The court agreed to review a lower court decision that the beef checkoff violates the First Amendment rights of cattle producers. The U.S. Justice Department, which is defending the checkoff program, asked the court for review.

"We're glad to see the end in sight to this unfair, undemocratic and unconstitutional program," says Mabel Dobbs, a rancher from Weiser, Idaho, and chair of WORC Livestock Team. "The Supreme Court already has struck down a similar program for mushrooms. We're confident that after hearing our case, the court will do the same with beef."

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