Iowa Public Television


Cattle Producers Prepare For Court

posted on December 3, 2004

The Environmental Working Group has once again compiled and released a list of all U.S. farm subsidies awarded in 2003. The group says subsidy payments to farmers were up 27 percent last year to a total of $16.4 billion. In renewing its call for an end to farm subsidies, the group says the top 20 recipients each received more than $2 million.

Producers would disagree that the money they receive from the feds is misspent. But there are other aspects of government involvement in agriculture that have some farmers fuming. Check-off programs for many commodities have become controversial, as both a fiscal and a free speech issue. Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court gets involved again, this time with the beef check-off.

Cattle Producers Prepare For Court Cattle producers have been participating in the beef check-off since 1988. For every animal sold, one dollar goes to the Cattlemen's Beef Board for research and promotion. All producers, domestic as well as foreign, pay the fee.

In 2000, after an attempt at a referendum failed, the Livestock Marketing Association, the Western Association of Research Councils, and several independent producers, filed suit against the federal government to get the fee eliminated.

The plaintiffs are objecting to, among other things, the fact that promotion is not specifically for US beef and should be considered a form of private speech. They further contend that having cattle producers as members of the board transforms the group into a private entity.

The USDA has countered by stating that the Beef Board is a government group because it was created by Congress. They also assert that the message is being handled according to the rules of the 1985 Farm Bill and is a form of government speech.

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear the case. This week, several of the plaintiffs met in Washington for a pre-trial press conference.

Greg Olsson, plaintiffs' attorney: "The plaintiffs want to express their own message. They want to promote their own domestic beef and they do not like the fact that they have to, that the check-off only promotes generic beef and treats imported beef the same as it treats domestic beef."

Decisions by the high court over check-offs have been mixed. Mushroom growers had their mandatory fees ruled unconstitutional. And in an earlier decision, it was ruled that tree fruit growers must continue making payments.

Several groups, the pork producers among them, are waiting for the beef decision as it will directly affect the future of both their promotion boards and bottom lines.

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