Iowa Public Television


Beef Checkoff Case To Be Heard, R-CALF Calls for Independent Test on Canadian Beef

posted on May 28, 2004

It's been an interesting six months for the U.S. beef industry. From the discovery of the first U.S. case of Mad Cow disease ... to the subsequent loss of foreign markets ... to the soaring domestic demand, U.S. producers have been buffeted by a variety of market forces.

They've also been vexed by policy squabbles within the industry over everything from Mad Cow testing to country-of-origin labeling.

Now comes a dispute on legal grounds that's sure to impact future promotion of beef and beef products, as the U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed to hear a challenge to the beef checkoff program.

Beef Checkoff Case To Be Heard, R-CALF Calls for Independent Test on Canadian Beef For 20 years, beef producers have paid $1 per head to fund promotions and research for the cattle industry. At issue is whether the mandatory contributions violate the First Amendment right of free speech.

Those opposed to the fee contend they would not have funded some of the advertisements if given a choice. Late last year, the 8th Circuit Court ruled beef producers did not have to pay into the fund. This week, the United States Supreme Court finally agreed to hear the case sometime this fall.

There is no clear precedent for this case. In 2001, the high court ruled mushroom growers were no longer required to pay a production fee. Even so, the high court ruled against fruit growers in a similar case.

Beef producers are not the only ones waiting for the High Court's decision. The pork industry will be keeping a close eye on the outcome. In 2002, the fee paid by hog producers to the government was ruled to be unconstitutional by a lower court.

This is not the only issue facing US cattle producers. With strong demand, buyers are looking to Canada to help fill orders. Due to Mad Cow concerns, only certain beef products are allowed into the U.S.. Despite assurances by the USDA that the meat being imported is safe some rancher and consumer groups are still concerned.

The Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, or R-CALF, along with several food activist groups, are calling on the Bush administration to appoint an independent scientific agency to assess the risks of importing any cattle or beef from Canada.

Bill Bullard, R-CALF President and CEO: "The risk assessment team must also include experts in both animal and human health matters. And until such analysis is completed, USDA has no valid basis to support any decision regarding BSE policy from Canada."

R-CALF has been critical of USDA opening the border to importation of Canadian beef since its ban last May.

Officials with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association are questioning R-CALF's motives. The CCA accused the group of being fundamentally opposed to trade.

Tags: agriculture animals beef Canada cattle diseases food safety industry livestock Mad Cow meat news trade