Court refuses to rehear beef case

Saturday, October 18, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- A federal court declined Friday to rehear its decision that a national beef checkoff program is unconstitutional. The defendants in the case asked for a stay, and it was granted, setting the stage for another possible appeal.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July the national program known for its "Beef: It's What's For Dinner" slogan was unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel affirmed a lower court decision this summer that the mandatory program infringes on the First Amendment rights of the cattle ranchers.

On Friday, the court opted not to convene all the court's judges to hear the matter or to have the orginal three-judge panel rehear it.

American beef farmers pay a $1-per-head fee on cattle sold in the United States under the program. Ranchers and farmers have to keep paying the fee until all appeals are exhausted.

Since 1985, livestock producers have paid the mandatory fee. Half of the money goes to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board and half to qualified state beef councils. The checkoff collects more than $80 million a year.

Money from the checkoff helps fund advertising, education and research programs.

A group of ranchers, the Livestock Marketing Association and others sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board in opposition to the checkoff program.

They argued that ads paid for through the program promote beef in general and not just beef raised in the United States. In effect, they said they don't want to pay for a marketing campaign they don't agree with.

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On the Net:

8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/

National Cattlemen's Beef Association: http://www.beef.org

USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service: http://www.ams.usda.gov

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