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WASHINGTON (AP) – The beef promotion program known for the slogan “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” could be the first victim of a Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional for the government to force mushroom producers to pay for industry advertising.

Groups opposed to the beef program, which is funded through mandatory fees on producers, said Thursday they will ask a South Dakota federal judge to rule that it violates First Amendment protections for free speech. The groups already have a lawsuit pending before the judge seeking a referendum on the program.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann said that lawsuit may be pointless, given the Supreme Court ruling in June.

The beef program is “unconstitutional and unfair,” said Linda Rauser, a North Dakota rancher and chairwoman of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, one of the plaintiffs.

Before the mushroom decision, the government warned the Supreme Court that the case could threaten similar programs administered by the Agriculture Department for beef, milk, pork, eggs and cotton.

Lynn Cornwell, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which is partly funded by the cattle fee, said the constitutional challenge will raise the lawsuit “to a destructive new level.”

The distinctions between the mushroom and beef programs “are as significant as the difference between mushrooms and beef,” she said.

But Kornmann, the South Dakota judge, said in a July 5 letter to the government and the plaintiffs in the beef program lawsuit that the “advertising for beef may well be much like that for mushrooms.

“I do not want to get further into this case or try the case only to discover that USDA concedes that the entire beef checkoff program is unconstitutional. … Obviously, neither this court nor USDA are going to ignore an opinion by the Supreme Court.”

Cattle producers pay a fee of $1 per cow that raises about $80 million a year for the beef program.

The beef program was authorized by Congress in 1985, and approved by producers in 1988. There has been no referendum since then.

onthenet

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association: http://www.beef.org

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service: http://www.ams.usda.gov

Livestock Marketing Association: http://www.lmaweb.com

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