Washington, D.C., December 8, 2004, Gina Holland,
Associated Press via CropChioce.com: A food
fight broke out at the U.S. Supreme Court today, with
justices considering whether the government can force
farmers and ranchers to pay for ad campaigns with catchy
phrases like "Beef: It's what's for dinner"
and billboards featuring milk mustaches on celebrities.
Some ranchers are challenging the multimillion-dollar
beef promotion program, saying they shouldn't have to
pay for ads they disagree with.
The eventual ruling could jeopardize more than 100
federal and state campaigns for other products - eggs,
mangoes, popcorn and even alligators.
The programs are billed as a way to help farmers of
all sizes with generic ads, but they have fared poorly
Lower courts have already struck down the "Got
Milk?" dairy promotion, advertisements calling
pork "the other white meat," and the beef
Attorney Gregory Garre, representing cattlemen who
support the beef campaign, told justices the whole industry
has benefited from increased exports to other countries
and consumer education.
"The part that's good can't save the whole thing,"
Justice Antonin Scalia said. And Justice Anthony M.
Kennedy said, "There is something offensive"
about forcing ranchers to pay for ads they do not support.
Still, the court seemed divided on how to settle the
"Every time we pay general taxes we're supporting
government speech we may not agree with," Scalia
Some justices also seemed concerned that a ruling against
the government would hurt efforts to force cigarette
makers to pay for ads warning about the dangers of smoking.
"The ultimate beneficiary of the advertising is
the consumer," Bush administration lawyer Edwin
Kneedler said, defending the beef campaign.
He said the government believes beef should be part
of Americans' diets, and formed the program to help
small farmers who could not mount a national campaign
on their own.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and several other court
members appeared skeptical of claims the beef program
was government speech, giving the cattle ranchers no
right to challenge it. She said government public health
experts would not encourage people to eat lots of red
Beef producers are required to pay a $1 per-head fee
on cattle sold in the United States, which generates
more than $80 million a year for ads, research and educational
programs on mad cow disease.
Federal officials oversee how the money is spent. Producers
get back $5.67 for every dollar they contribute in increased
prices because of the program, supporters contend.
However, Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe,
representing ranchers who oppose the program, said the
money never makes it to the 850,000 individual cattle
producers. Instead, he said, restaurants, grocery stores
and slaughterhouses get the benefits.
Tribe said the ad campaign is intended to help, but
"the road to hell is often paved with good intentions."
The government was sued by ranchers who sell cattle
in South Dakota and Montana. They won an appeals court
ruling that found the 20-year-old program violated the
The federal government and Nebraska cattlemen appealed
to the high court, which has dealt before with questions
about government authority to force farmers into joint
In 1997, the court upheld advertising programs for
California fruit. But in 2001, justices struck down
a mandatory campaign for the mushroom industry. The
court has never decided, however, if such programs are
government speech. Many groups and 34 states are supporting
the government. Justices were told that in California
alone, 48 mandatory programs are used to promote produce
like grapes and lettuce.
The federal government has 17 research and promotion
programs, for blueberries, beef, cotton, dairy, eggs,
milk, Hass avocados, honey, lamb, mangoes, mushrooms,
peanuts, popcorn, pork, potatoes, soybeans and watermelons.
The cases are Veneman v. Livestock Marketing Association,
03-1164, and Nebraska Cattlemen v. Livestock Marketing