Beef Checkoff Ruled Constitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday by a vote of 6-3 that the beef checkoff program is constitutional, overturning a ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that found the program violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling will allow continued funding of the popular “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” advertising campaign. The beef program ruling is also likely to affect similar cases pending before the Supreme Court on the pork checkoff program and the dairy checkoff program.

Critics of the programs have argued that the promotions they fund favor large corporate producers and violate the free-speech rights of individual farmers who do not want to participate and who are forced to pay for advertisements with which they disagree.

The Supreme Court ruled that the generic beef advertising at issue in the beef checkoff case was government speech and therefore exempt from the First Amendment free-speech challenge brought by the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA).

The Court found that while the beef checkoff program is run by the Beef Board and Operating Committee, which are non-governmental entities, the message of the advertising was “effectively controlled by the federal government.”

The Court noted the beef checkoff program is prescribed by law and that half the members of the operating committee are appointed by the agriculture secretary, with all the members of the committee are subject to removal by the secretary. The court also noted that the secretary has final approval power over “every word in every promotional campaign” funded by the beef checkoff program.

This was not the case with a mushroom checkoff program that the court ruled unconstitutional back in 2001. The court found that program compelled mushroom producers to pay for promotional activities that were “neither prescribed by law or developed under official government supervision”.

Editors note: Richard Brock, The Corn and Soybean Digest's Marketing Editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.

To see more market perspectives, visit Brock's Web site at www.brockreport.com.