Checkoff dealt big defeat in court

US - The clock is ticking for USDA to make its next move in the pork checkoff suit. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Oct. 22 that the pork checkoff is unconstitutional, upholding a November 2002 decision issued by District Court Judge Richard Enslen.
calendar icon 28 October 2003
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USDA, represented by the Department of Justice, has 45 days to decide whether to ask the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case or 90 days to ask the Supreme Court to review the case.

Checkoff collections will continue for the 45 days, a Department of Justice spokesman said. If the government decides not to ask for a rehearing and instead ask the Supreme Court to review the case, the government will need to ask for an extension of collections.

"They're running out of options," said Susan Stokes, legal director for Farmers' Legal Action Group. FLAG represented The Campaign for Family Farms in the suit. The Campaign for Family Farms is a coalition of farm and rural groups fighting the checkoff.

Stokes said that the full Sixth Circuit Court rarely rehears a case -- granting this in less than 1 percent of cases.

The three-judge Appeals Court rejected USDA's argument that the pork checkoff is a government program. The court found that the pork checkoff "compels (hog farmers) to express a message with which they do not agree," and struck down the entire Pork Act.

The Pork Act was passed by Congress in 1986 and collections began in November of that year. Pork producers pay 40 cents per $100 value for each hog sold, netting the National Pork Board about $50 million annually to pay for promotion, research and consumer information.

"The success of the pork checkoff has been well documented," said Ogden, Iowa, pork producer Craig Christensen, NPB president. "We all invest in the checkoff and the checkoff delivers, especially for pork producers."

But Minnesota pork producer Rich Smith disagrees.

"The pork checkoff has forced family farmers to pay into a program that supports corporate concentration, industrialization and the factory farm system of livestock production, which drives family farmers out of business," Smith said. "The end of the checkoff is long overdue."

Source: Agrinews - 28th October 2003

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