Supreme Court issues OK for beef checkoff program

WASHINGTON: A US Supreme Court decision last week affirmed a law requiring cattlemen to pay into an industrywide beef marketing fund, despite objections that the program unfairly benefited foreign producers and violated cattlemen's First Amendment rights.

WASHINGTON: A US Supreme Court decision last week affirmed a law requiring cattlemen to pay into an industrywide beef marketing fund, despite objections that the program unfairly benefited foreign producers and violated cattlemen's First Amendment rights.

The ruling, along with several other similar cases soon to be decided, could clear the way for commodity groups to continue funding their PR and advertising programs through producer-paid fees.

The Livestock Marketing Association (LMA), a group that opposes the checkoff, had won a lower court ruling that the program violated First Amendment rights by forcing cattlemen to contribute to the program.

The Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling last week, stating that the program came under the definition of "government speech" because the checkoff is overseen by the Department of Agriculture.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) had used funds from the beef checkoff to bankroll its "Beef: It's What's for Dinner" campaign. The association is the major group that receives funds from the promotion board.

The LMA objected to the generic nature of that promotion, contending that it benefited foreign imports by not distinguishing between US and foreign beef.

Other commodity groups had been watching the case closely, as it helps clear the way for them to use checkoff funds for national PR and advertising programs.

"We fully expect for the law the court created to be applied to the pork checkoff," said Mike Wegner, VP of communications with the National Pork Board.

A Supreme Court case involving the pork program could be decided this week, he said. The board hopes to expand its marketing and PR efforts if it wins.

The dairy industry has a similar case pending before the Supreme Court.

The beef ruling is "a very positive decision, not just for the beef checkoff, but for all commodity marketing programs," said David Pelzer, VP of industry relations and communications at Dairy Management, a group that handles dairy-product marketing and PR.

With the checkoff lawsuit settled, "we continue to build our programs around the priorities that are determined by our leadership," said Terry Stokes, CEO of the NCBA.

The association is stressing a leisure message for beef this year. It's about to begin its annual summer campaign to encourage grilling.

The association works with Burson-Marsteller and Edelman. It also uses Osborn & Barr, a b-to-b shop, for member relations.

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