These dairy farmers fed up with 'Got Milk?' promotion
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON A Pennsylvania dairy farming family is challenging the mandatory promotional campaign that pays for "Got Milk?" ads, arguing farmers shouldn't be forced to pay for advertising they don't agree with.
Joe and Brenda Cochran of Westfield, Pa., filed suit April 2 in U.S. District Court in Scranton, seeking an end to the mandatory fee of 15 cents per hundred pounds of milk roughly 2 cents a gallon. The money pays for ads featuring celebrities wearing milk mustaches, as well as commercials touting "Ahh, the power of cheese."
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. United Foods that a similar program for mushroom growers violated the First Amendment guarantee of free speech, but it ruled in the 1997 case Glickman v. Wileman Bros. & Elliott, Inc. that joint advertisements were constitutional in heavily regulated industries such as California fruit production.
In January 2000, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case Nature's Dairy v. Glickman, a challenge by some dairy farmers who objected to funding the "Got Milk?" campaign. In that case, the justices, without comment, rejected an appeal in which the dairy farmers challenged the government's authority to force them to finance the generic ads aimed at boosting the entire industry.
The Cochrans, who raise 150 cows on their 200-acre farm in north-central Pennsylvania, say they produce a superior milk without growth hormones and don't want to pay to promote generic milk.
"We try to follow the old practices, as opposed to the more modern concentrated operations," said Joe Cochran, 51, whose family pays about $3,500 a year in promotion fees. "We have the cows spread out a little more space, a little more freedom and a little more sunshine."
Similar legal challenges are pending for beef and pork promotions.
"The First Amendment affords someone the right to speech, and also the right not to speak," said Eric Schippers, executive director of the Center for Individual Freedom, an Arlington, Va., group that is paying for the Cochrans' lawsuit.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, declined to comment specifically on the litigation, but said the program had been an effective tool to increase dairy sales.
"As such, the department has been supportive of using those tools," said spokesman Jerry Redding.
The Cochrans' lawyer, Ben Yale of Waynesfield, Ohio, said that was not the issue.
"This isn't a challenge to the effectiveness of the programs," he said. "It's simply whether a producer should have a choice."
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