In a ruling today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the beef checkoff program by a 6 to 3 decision and overturned a ruling by the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that found the beef promotion program violated of the First Amendment. 

In its decision, the Supreme Court has determined that beef campaign is a form of "government speech" immune to First Amendment challenge. "The message set out in the beef promotions is from beginning to end the message established by the federal government," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in an opinion joined by Cheif Justice William H. Rehnquist as well as Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer.

“Congress and the Secretary have set out the overarching message and some of the campaign .s elements, and have left the development of the remaining details to the Operating Committee, half of whose members are appointed by the Secretary and all of whom are subject to removal by the Secretary. The Secretary also has final approval authority over every word in every promotional campaign, and his subordinates attend and participate in meetings at which proposals are developed.”

Cattle groups and producers who supported the checkoff were relieved on word of the decision. “We are elated,” said Jim McAdams, an Adkins, Texas, cattleman and president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).  “Throughout the lengthy litigation process, we believed in the merits of our case and the merits of the beef checkoff.” 

He said, “We anticipated a positive decision. This is a victory for all producers who want demand-building efforts in beef safety, nutrition and promotion continued.”

Cattlemen have supported a checkoff assessment since 1922. January 2005 independent research indicates that a significant 73 percent of beef producers support the current $1-per-head beef checkoff program.  Upon the Supreme Court’s acceptance of the beef checkoff case in May 2004, an overwhelming 113 state and national beef industry and general agriculture organizations signed a friend-of-the-court amicus brief in support of the beef checkoff. The brief was also signed by attorneys general from 35 states and Puerto Rico and the chairmen of both the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees.

Myron Williams, a Wall, S.D., cattleman and chairman of the Federation of State Beef Councils Division of NCBA said, “It’s clear that a majority of cattlemen and agricultural groups recognize that checkoff programs are good for local beef industries and economies.”  He said, “Cattle-Fax estimates that the beef demand gain in just the past seven years has added about $250 per head to the value of fed cattle and $200 per head to the value of calves. Consumers are willing to pay more for the high-quality beef we are producing.”

The beef checkoff has stimulated the development of more than 2,100 new beef products since 1998.  Advertising tracking research indicates that the checkoff is improving consumer attitudes about beef’s nutritional value. And, the checkoff’s organized and proactive public response to a single case of BSE diagnosed in the U.S. has been credited with maintaining the high level of consumer confidence in the safety of U.S. beef.

Williams continued, “State beef councils and their Federation – a division of NCBA – are committed to protecting the brand equity built in the “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.®” campaign.”

“It is time now for industry groups to put aside their differences and move forward together,” concluded McAdams.