Iowa Public Television


The Beef Checkoff Gets Its Day In Court

posted on December 10, 2004

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.

There are many ways to measure the health of the economy. One way is a monthly check on wholesale prices, or the producer price index. The PPI, as its known, measures the cost of goods before they get to store shelves.

Last month the PPI increased by its greatest amount in 14 years, which had some analysts worried about inflation. *But the latest figure, released this week, shows wholesale prices up by just five-tenths of a percent. *Take out volatile energy and food costs, and core wholesale prices were up by just two-tenths of a percent.

For consumers, that's goods news, especially in the middle of a shopping season when bargains are highly sought.

Minding your money is an issue for many cattle producers, as well. In fact, this week the beef industry took an internal fight to the highest court in the land, where justices heard arguments on the beef check-off program.


The Beef Checkoff Gets Its Day In Court

The question before the US Supreme Court centers on the mandatory requirement that beef producers contribute to a fund that pays for cattle industry advertising and research.

On one side sit cattle producer groups who, in this case, are represented by the Western Organization of Resource Councils and the Livestock Marketing Association. These groups object to, among other things, the fact that promotion is not specific to US beef and should be considered a form of private speech.

On the other side, sits the USDA, the Beef Board and The National Cattlemen's Beef Association. The Beef Board collects the $1 per head assessed to all growers, both foreign and domestic. The NCBA is charged by the government to distribute the more than $80 million collected annually by the Beef Board. The USDA argues the Beef Board, and its money distribution arm, the NCBA, are engaged in government speech.

During questioning in front of the Supreme Court this week, the Justices were not clear on how they might rule. The statements from the bench ranged from calling the program "offensive" to concerns about fees being used as mandatory payment for speech that citizens may not support.

Following the hearing, representatives from both sides made their case on the steps of the courthouse.

Lawrence Tribe, Counsel, against the Beef Check-off: " our economy and our society, if the court were to say we can't literally put words in your mouth, but we can take pennies out of your pocket and pay them to someone else to speak as a kind of ventriloquist on your behalf, would really make a major step back from basic free speech principles."

Greg Garre: Counsel, for the Beef Check-off: "Congress determined that you need a collective action, a national fund, to be able to promote the message of beef. And that unless Congress acted, the ranching way of life, the typical cattle producer, that would die out. And we've seen that in other industries, the chicken industry where we now have five major producers that distribute chicken, they don't have a check-off program 'cause they don't need it."

The final decision, expected sometime next year, will influence more than just cattle producers. Waiting in the wings are groups like the pork producers who postponed their Supreme Court appearance to await the outcome of the beef case.


Tags: agriculture animals beef cattle courts industry livestock meat news U.S. Supreme Court