A federal judge has found the Nebraska Livestock Brand Act constitutional and dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of feedlot operators seeking to prevent the state from enforcing it.

"Whatever flaws there might be with the Brand Act, it does not violate federal law," U.S. District Judge John Gerrard wrote.

The Nebraska Beef Producers Committee, a nonprofit group representing cattle producers with feedlots across the state, sued the Nebraska Brand Committee and executive director William Bunce, alleging the regulatory scheme codified in the act was "ineffectual and obsolete."

In the suit filed last year, the beef producers said when the Legislature formed the Brand Committee in 1941, cattle theft was a serious concern.

To protect against cattle being stolen from large, open cow-calf operations, lawmakers designated a portion of the state, roughly the western two-thirds of Nebraska, as a brand inspection area.

The Brand Act requires cattle being moved outside the brand area or sold within it to be inspected.

But, feedlots now use things like electronic identification devices and ear tags, along with brands, to track and identify animals, reducing the risk of thieves passing off stolen cattle as their own, the beef producers said.

And, they argued, waiting for inspectors only leads to weight loss to cattle, lost profits and sometimes lost contracts.

The beef producers alleged the Brand Act ran afoul of the dormant Commerce Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, to the detriment of their members, because the statutory scheme treats cattle sold, traded or slaughtered in or out of the brand inspection area differently.

In an order this week, Gerrard said inspection areas like this one have been upheld against Equal Protection challenges, and it was well within the Legislature's discretion to limit the application of the Brand Act to a specific area.

He said he doesn't doubt that the Beef Producers believe it has outlived its usefulness.

"But the people who can help them with that problem, if indeed it is a problem, can be found about four blocks south down Centennial Mall," Gerrard said, alluding to the Nebraska Legislature.

He said the citizens and businesses of Nebraska bear the costs of the Brand Act, "and it is up to them and their representatives to decide, through the political process, whether the benefits ... outweigh those costs."

The Nebraska Brand Committee, which is named in the suit, has about 100 employees and records ranchers' brands, inspects cattle to verify ownership and investigates missing livestock and cattle rustling.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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