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020635 Beef Checkoff Program Ordered Halted

June 29, 2002

Aberdeen, SD - A federal judge ruled Friday that the national beef checkoff program violates the constitutional rights of cattle producers by infringing on the First Amendment.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kornmann ordered a halt to collections for the checkoff program, which requires cattle ranchers to pay a $1 per-head fee on cattle sold in the United States for beef promotion and research.

The decision is expected to be appealed.

In his ruling, Kornmann said cattlemen should not be required to pay for commercials a form of speech that they oppose. He also said they are being made to pay for ads that benefit others that sell beef such as restaurants and retail outlets.

The checkoff program, which went into effect in 1985, raises more than $80 million a year. Half the money goes to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board and half to qualified state beef councils. The groups came up with the popular "Beef: It's what's for dinner" slogan.

Those opposed to the checkoff are upset the advertisements promote beef in general and not American beef.

"When we initiated checkoff dollars everybody thought we were going to get better prices. But it never helped the U.S. producer," said Bob Thullner, one of the plaintiffs and a cattle producer in Campbell County.

The ruling was not welcome news to everyone.

"This is a very disappointing decision for Montana's cattle producers," said Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. "We are looking forward to a speedy and successful appeal of this decision, but in the meantime are concerned that the judge clearly didn't understand how critical the beef checkoff is to the future of our beef businesses."

In 1999, cattlemen opposing the checkoff submitted thousands of signatures to the U.S. Department of Agriculture requesting a referendum on whether the fee should die. No vote was ever scheduled. The federal court case ensued and was held in South Dakota because it had the highest percentage of livestock producers who supported a referendum.

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