Can State Beef Checkoff Take Over?

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules the national beef checkoff is unconstitutional, some state beef organizations may be in line to conduct their own checkoff program. Wayne Harr

Published on: Apr 1, 2004

Last month, beef groups supporting a national beef checkoff asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if the beef checkoff is constitutional. The appeal to the Supreme Court is the next step in the case filed by the Livestock Marketing Association, the activist group Western Organization of Resource Councils and several individuals.

In July 2003, a three-judge panel from the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an appeal of a lower court ruling that the checkoff violates the constitutional rights of cattle ranchers by infringing on their First Amendment right to free speech.

A decision on whether the Supreme Court will hear the case is expected this spring. If it decides to hear the case, it likely will be heard in the court’s next session, which begins in October.

In the meantime, some states are considering or taking actions to put a state beef checkoff in place in case the national program goes out. Several states had active beef checkoff programs in past years before the federal program began, but those were discontinued after the national program was started.

For example, Kentucky had a 25-cent beef checkoff that could be reinstated. However, going above that amount would take legislative action and a referendum. Under the national program, producers pay $1 per head for all cattle sold, with 50 cents to the national program and 50 cents to the state level.

In Tennessee, cattle producers will decide in an April 23 referendum whether or not to approve and fund a state beef promotion program. They will vote at their county Extension offices.

In order to vote in the referendum, producers must be a Tennessee resident who produce and markets beef or dairy cattle, be at least 18 years of age and sign a legal affidavit attesting to eligibility.

Organizations representing cattle producers called for the referendum, provided for under state law, to authorize the assessment of $1 per head of cattle sold to fund a state beef promotion program. The state assessment would only take place in event the national beef program is discontinued.