Monday, May 23, 2005

Supreme Court rules in favor of beef commodity checkoff advertising

The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the beef commodity checkoff advertising program. Now, things should get interesting. The basis for the ruling is that the Beef Board's advertising (and by extension, generic advertising for pork, cheese, and so forth) is "government speech." If a beef farmer doesn't want to pay for this advertising, it's his or her tough luck -- the federal government will now continue to enforce collection of the tax.

From the Reuters report this morning:
By a 6-3 vote, the high court handed a victory to the government. It said the generic advertising at issue is the government's own speech and therefore exempt from the First Amendment free-speech challenge that had been brought.... The high court set aside a U.S. appeals court ruling that the beef checkoff program violated ranchers' free-speech speech rights and should be ended. Justice Antonin Scalia said the message is effectively controlled by the federal government. He said the agriculture secretary has final approval authority over every word in every promotional campaign.
Other coverage comes from the Associated Press. In the past year, I have been researching the consistency between the "government speech" in the checkoff board advertising and the government speech in the federal government's Dietary Guidelines and new Pyramid. The findings are in an article last fall in Choices magazine, which has received an honorable mention from the American Agricultural Economics Association, and in a recent working paper. To give a flavor of the issues, consider whether the federal government's speech through the beef board represents the public interest or private special interests:

Supreme Court beef advertising
Somebody will have to ask Eric Hentges, the director of USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which oversees the Dietary Guidelines and the new Pyramid, whether his office has sufficient courage and independence from industry influence to press the USDA to speak with one voice about diet and health, as he has stated to Congress. What would 'one voice' mean? Will the generic advertising campaigns designed to increase consumption of beef, pork, cheese, and butter all be brought in line with the Dietary Guidelines and the new Pyramid?

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