California farmers applaud beef ruling

The latest court decision on agricultural commodity programs is good news for California’s farmers. By a 6-3 vote, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Beef Promotion and Research Order.

"Tens of thousands of California farmers vote on a regular basis to keep these promotional programs in place," said Blair Richardson, chairman of the California Agricultural Issues Forum, an organization of California commodity groups that filed a brief with the court in support of the beef program. "A handful of dissenters are using the courts to try to overturn what the majority wants. This decision is a win for farmers and for the future of farming in California." The California Agricultural Issues Forum represents more than a dozen commodities including tree fruit, fresh grapes, avocados, tomatoes and cherries.

The court reviewed the constitutional challenge to the Beef Order, known for its "Beef, it’s what’s for dinner" advertisements and decided that the speech from the government-created program was protected from constitutional challenge because it is government speech and thus exempt from First Amendment scrutiny.

"We are gratified by the court’s decision," said Randolph Moss, of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, attorneys for the California Agricultural Issues Forum. "This is a significant victory."

Similar programs exist in California for over 50 crops, including grapes, tree fruit, walnuts, milk, salmon, beef, rice, wheat, asparagus, tomatoes and olives. Their promotional messages are set by statute and they are under the control of either the California or U.S. agriculture departments.

Moss noted that the decision did not focus on the specifics of the beef message but rather on the fact that "…Congress and the Secretary have set out the overarching messages and some of its elements, and they have left the development of the remaining details to an entity whose members are answerable to the secretary… As a result," said Moss, "this is an important decision that makes clear that mandatory commodity programs like the one upheld today are the work and the speech of the government. It is a decision that will apply to a wide range of commodity programs."

Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, echoed Moss’ views. "This is a significant win for the thousands of farmers in California who believe they need to work together under the auspices of government in order to survive in the global marketplace."

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