In a case that could have far-reaching implications for the U.S. beef industry, a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the Beef Promotion and Research Act violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. At the same time, the court said the program may continue while the parties decide whether to appeal the decision.

“We are deeply disappointed in the court’s ruling today, but remain committed to our goal of protecting the future of the beef checkoff,” says Eric Davis, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and a beef producer from Bruneau, Idaho.“ The beef checkoff is absolutely critical to protecting the long-term marketing climate for beef,” he adds. “Without the checkoff and its ‘Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner’ consumer promotions, the beef industry would not be as successful as it is today.”

The stay of the trial court’s injunction that has been in effect since the case was appealed to the Eight Circuit Court will remain in effect while the government and the pro-checkoff interveners decide whether to ask the full panel of judges of the Eighth Circuit to rehear the case. Both national and state beef checkoff programs remain in operation and collections will continue.

“This ruling is not unexpected,” says Davis.  “Throughout the lengthy litigation process, we have anticipated that this decision would ultimately need to be made by the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite this court’s decision, we believe in the merits of our case and in the merits of the beef checkoff.  We are confident the checkoff will ultimately prevail.”

Davis pointed out that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Montana is currently considering an appeal on a similar challenge to the checkoff where the District Court ruled that the Beef Checkoff was constitutional. In addition, Davis noted that the two other Circuit Courts that have considered First Amendment challenges to the Beef Act – the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia and the 10th Circuit in Denver – both found the Beef Act to be constitutional. 

The Livestock Marketing Association, the Western Organization of Resource Councils and a few individual beef producers filed this challenge to the beef checkoff’s constitutionality. Defendants in the case are USDA, the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administer the checkoff, and Nebraska Cattlemen, which is leading a group of pro-checkoff producers that intervened to support the checkoff.

“We believe that our appeal will show the facts and law support the constitutionality of a mandatory assessment program that helps to protect and enhance the market demand for our cattle,” says Davis.

In response to the ruling, Craig Christensen, president of the National Pork Board, said, “Members of the National Pork Board are disappointed in the decision of the 8th Circuit Court in the beef checkoff case, but we also know that the case has no direct bearing on a similar case involving the Pork Checkoff in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. As we have stated before, we simply view this as another step in a lengthy legal process.

“Today is no different than yesterday – the Pork Checkoff continues to provide programs for all producers to increase the demand for pork, to increase the export demand for U.S. Pork, to provide access to the knowledge and opportunities that allow all producers to be competitive and to meet the challenges of 21st century pork production.”

When contacted by Pork for its reaction, the National Pork Producers Council had no comment on the ruling and plans to reserve comments until a ruling is made on the pork checkoff case.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association