Pork checkoff gets boot, again


SALEM, Ohio – Oct. 25, 2002: Pork checkoff opponents celebrated a court’s ruling that the mandatory payment was unconstitutional.

Oct. 22, 2003: Pork checkoff opponents celebrated another court’s ruling that the mandatory payment was unconstitutional.

And the case goes on.

In an appeals process that has become a federal court mainstay the last few years, pork checkoff backers are struggling to keep a 40-cent-per-hundredweight fee. This mandatory fee funds pork marketing and advertising.

Supporters say the checkoff’s success in creating demand is well-documented. Opponents argue it violates producers’ freedom of speech.

Strike down. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati sided with opponents and in its ruling wrote: “The Pork Act does not directly limit the ability of pork producers to express a message; it compels them to express a message with which they do not agree.”

The report goes on to say, “The district court was correct in striking down the entire Pork Act.”

Expectations. Although he was disappointed, the decision wasn’t a surprise to Ohio Pork Producers’ Council’s Dick Isler.

But he’s confident the USDA will seek an appeal to get the Supreme Court to hear the case.

In the meantime, Isler said producers aren’t sitting around and waiting for the courts. Instead they are making plans in case the checkoff stops being collected.

A national voluntary program is already in place, he said, and collects 10 cents per hundredweight. If the checkoff ends, that voluntary fee will increase to 45 cents per hundredweight, he said.

“But the checkoff is still the most fair and equitable program,” Isler stressed.

What’s next. Despite the decision, producers will continue paying the checkoff until the appeals process is complete.

The U.S. Department of Justice has 45 days to decide whether to ask for a rehearing.

“There is absolutely no reason to keep collecting the checkoff fees – USDA and [National Pork Producers Council] should not ask for a stay, should not keep delaying, and should quit collecting our money and let justice prevail,” said Campaign for Family Farms spokesman Jim Joens.

“It’s over.”

History. The majority of producers voted to terminate the checkoff in a referendum in 2000. The vote, however, was later discredited because of the way it was administered.

This controversy pushed Campaign for Family Farms to file a lawsuit against USDA, citing the checkoff’s unconstitutionality.

Although a federal court judge in Michigan ruled last fall against the checkoff, a later ruling required producers to continue paying the fee during the appeal process.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)


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