Monday, May 23, 2005

It's what's for dinner!!!!!

What is for dinner? Not the truth, anyway. Read this latest in corporate-owned government:

May 23, 2005 Beef Makers Can Be Forced to Pay for Ads By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Filed at 6:07 p.m. ET WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government can make cattle ranchers pay for ads proclaiming ''Beef: It's what's for dinner,'' the Supreme Court ruled Monday. Some ranchers object to paying for the ad campaigns because they don't like the generic message that all beef -- American or foreign -- is good. But the court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the beef program amounts to government speech that is shielded from First Amendment challenge. The government is allowed to promote its own message and compel producers to pay fees, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. ''The message of the promotional campaigns is effectively controlled by the Federal Government itself,'' Scalia wrote in an opinion joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer. The agriculture secretary, a public official, controls the program, appoints and dismisses key personnel and has ''absolute veto power'' over the ads, even when it comes to their wording, Scalia wrote. At issue is a program passed by Congress in 1985 requiring cattle producers to pay $1 for every head of cattle sold in the United States for industry advertising and research. The Agriculture Department collects the ''checkoff'' fees, which total more than $80 million annually, and distributes the money to an industry group appointed by the department to run the program. The program is intended to boost demand for beef and boost profits for producers, said Monte Reese, chief operating officer of the Cattlemen's Beef Board, the group that runs the program. ''We have seen a 25 percent increase in our demand in just the last few years,'' Reese said Monday. ''We're enjoying record high prices. We've been able to make strides in beef safety. '' Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns called the ruling ''a win for the many producers who recognize the power of pooled resources.'' Similar programs run by federal and state authorities promote pork, milk, eggs, soybeans and cotton. Lower courts have struck down the ''Got Milk?'' dairy promotion and pork ads promoting ''the other white meat.'' An appeal of the pork decision is pending now before the Supreme Court. ''We'll be extremely surprised and disappointed if the judgment is not applied to the pork case as well as the beef case,'' said Dave Culbertson, president of the National Pork Board. Opponents of the fees argued the program is not government-run. The government speech defense is ''news to me,'' said Mabel Dobbs, an Idaho rancher and member of the Montana-based Western Organization of Resource Councils. ''We've long been told that the beef checkoff is producer-run, producer-driven and producer-funded,'' Dobbs said. In a dissenting opinion, Justice David H. Souter argued that the beef campaigns are not government speech. If the government wants to use targeted taxes to fund speech, it must be accountable for indicating the speech is a government message, he wrote. ''No one hearing a commercial for Pepsi or Levi's thinks Uncle Sam is the man talking behind the curtain. Why would a person reading a beef ad think Uncle Sam was trying to make him eat more steak?'' Souter wrote in a dissent joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Anthony Kennedy. The government was sued by ranchers in South Dakota and Montana, and an appeals court ruled that the program violated the First Amendment. The government and Nebraska cattlemen appealed to the high court. The court has gone both ways in earlier cases, upholding advertising programs for California fruit in 1997 and striking down a campaign for the mushroom industry in 2001. But the court had never ruled on whether those programs were government speech. The cases are Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association, 03-1164, and Nebraska Cattlemen v. Livestock Marketing Association, 03-1165.
While I cannot argue one way or the other as to the constitutionality of the decision, what I can say is what this means: large agribusiness firms (the "industry group" referred to in the article) will continue to make huge profits (look at the sidebar for campain contributions...), we will continue to have little testing compared to Europe for Mad Cow (BSE), the American consumer will not see any serious accross-the-board labeling campaign for organic or grass-fed beef, and the government will continue to promote (free speech?) a generic beef PRODUCT with dubious environmental and health consequences.

Now, before anybody hate-mails me, I eat beef. I love steak. I just think that a local rancher who raises high-quality beef should be able to identify his product and get promotion for it that distinguishes it from the sickly hormone infested meat we otherwise relish. But, you see, our government acquisitions this 1$ per head and gives it right back to an industry group controlled by the largest and most powerful ranchers and meatpackers.