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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Beef Checkoff Case

DENVER - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide whether the government can force cattle producers to pay for the $1-per-head checkoff that funds research and promotions.

While recent lower court decisions ruled that forcing producers to pay for the beef industry's campaign violated their First Amendment rights, the decision to hear the case will allow the beef checkoff program to continue business as usual throughout the proceedings.

"This decision was expected," said Bob Rolston, an Englewood, Colo. cattleman as well as the chairman of the Federation of State Beef Councils Division of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "Throughout the lengthy litigation process, we anticipated that the decision would ultimately be made by the U.S. Supreme Court. What's more, we believe in the merits of the beef checkoff and are confident that it eventually will prevail."

The final Supreme Court ruling is expected in the first half of 2005.

Cattlemen have supported a checkoff assessment since 1922. Recent producer market research conducted by an independent firm indicates that nearly 70 percent of beef producers support the current $1-per-head beef checkoff program. National industry organizations, along with intervening groups, are using all legal options to preserve the federal checkoff.

"At the same time, state organizations have prepared plans to ensure a state-based checkoff program continues through locally mandated legislation," noted Rolston. "State beef councils are committed to the importance of their federation as the vehicle for developing and coordinating state and national demand-building programs."

The Livestock Marketing Association, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, and a few individual producers raised the legal challenge to the beef checkoff's constitutionality.

The Supreme Court's ruling on the case could have an impact on other marketing programs run by the Agriculture Department, including the pork checkoff program, which was also ruled unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds by a lower court.
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