WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by disgruntled beef producers who say they shouldn’t have to pay to promote their product. A ruling is expected early next year.

The lawsuit challenges mandatory producer contributions to the $50-million-a-year beef checkoff program that is currently funding the “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner” advertising campaign. But observers say the ruling could impact other producer-funded marketing and research programs.

“I am pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to review the issues regarding the Beef Promotion and Research Act,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. “USDA regards such programs, when properly administered, as effective tools for market enhancement.”

While the vast majority of the beef industry appears to agree with the secretary, a handful of North Dakota livestock producers say the campaign violates their free speech rights. They have also argued that the market promotion campaigns make no distinction between U.S. and imported beef.

Leaders of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association say they fully expected the case to reach the nation’s highest court and that the industry position favoring such programs would prevail.

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