Pork-checkoff program ruled 'unconstitutional, rotten'
By The Associated Press
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. A federal judge has ruled the U.S. Department of Agriculture's pork-checkoff program "unconstitutional and rotten" and ordered collections stopped by Nov. 24.
U.S. District Judge Richard A. Enslen ruled against the National Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act of 1985, which created the USDA-supervised checkoff program.
Dave Roper, a pork producer from Kimberly, Idaho, and president of the National Pork Council, said yesterday that his group would seek an immediate stay of Enslen's ruling.
"It is unfortunate that a group of farm activists has chosen to force us into a battle to defend our right to fund the research and promotion of our products," Roper said.
In a statement released yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman expressed disappointment, calling commodity check-off programs "effective tools for market enhancement."
But Rhonda Perry, a hog farmer in Armstrong, Mo., and a representative of the Campaign for Family Farms, declared the Oct. 25 ruling "a victory for family farm hog producers all across the country."
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. United Foods that a similar program for the mushroom industry violated producers' free-speech rights.
The National Pork Producers Council, a Washington-based coalition, sued the government after thousands of the nation's hog farmers voted to end the $54 million pork-checkoff program.
The mandatory fee, started in 1986, is 45 cents for every $100 of a pig's value when it is sold.
The program is best known for its promotion of pork as "the other white meat." The fees collected from U.S. hog farmers are also used for financing research and consumer information.
In 2000, then-Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman ordered a legal referendum, and that summer hog farmers voted 15,951 to 14,396 to eliminate the program.
Michigan Pork Producers and the National Pork Council challenged the referendum in court. In settling the lawsuit in February 2001, Glickman's successor, Veneman, said the check-off program would continue.
The Campaign for Family Farms, a coalition of groups representing small hog farms, challenged the legality of the settlement and the constitutionality of the program.
The group's biggest complaint was that much of the money was being spent to promote pork raised by large, corporate-owned operations.
Last January, Enslen dismissed the portion of the countersuit challenging the settlement's legality. But his ruling supported the claim that the program violated the coalition's First Amendment free-speech and association rights.
"The government has been made tyrannical by forcing men and women to pay for messages they detest," the judge wrote. "Such a system is at the bottom unconstitutional and rotten."
Pork council wants to know if mandatory ad campaign is constitutional
Group asks federal judge to approve settlement worked out by Bush administration to keep industry-funded research, promotion program going.
Court rulings put mandatory ad campaigns in jeopardy
Analysis Recent federal decisions striking down beef, mushroom promotions could signal legal trouble for other farmer-funded programs.
Montana federal judge backs beef-checkoff rules
Decision comes a week after federal judge in Michigan declares similar pork program 'unconstitutional and rotten.'
These dairy farmers fed up with 'Got Milk?' promotion
Supreme Court has produced mixed bag of rulings on mandatory ad campaigns for food producers.
Beef ads challenged after ruling against mushroom promotions
Judge in pending lawsuit asks both sides to review case in light of Supreme Courtís decision, saying Ďadvertising for beef may well be much like that for mushrooms.í