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Hog Farmers Hail Judge’s Beef Checkoff Ruling

Believe mandatory pork checkoff program could face similar ruling

Missouri Rural Crisis Center
Columbia, Missouri

Hog farmers are applauding the June 21,2002 ruling by a South Dakota federal judge that the mandatory beef checkoff program is unconstitutional and should be terminated. They say the decision will help their fight to end the mandatory pork checkoff, which is being challenged in federal court on similar grounds by the Campaign for Family Farms (CFF).

“We’re elated,” said Larry Ginter, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and a CFF spokesperson. “We’ve been fighting hard to end the mandatory pork checkoff, and this beef checkoff ruling is very encouraging. It supports our view that the mandatory pork checkoff is unconstitutional as well.”

In Friday’s ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kornmann said the beef checkoff violates cattle producers’ basic rights under the First Amendment. The Associated Press reported on Saturday that Kornmann’s ruling said “cattlemen should not be required to pay for commercials - a form of speech - that they oppose...and that cattle producers are being forced to pay for ads that benefit others that sell beef such as restaurants and other retail outlets.” A.P. also reported that Judge Kornmann has ordered a halt to collections of the beef checkoff, into which cattle producers pay approximately $80 million annually.

The Campaign for Family Farms has a First Amendment lawsuit pending in federal District Court in Western Michigan against the mandatory pork checkoff program. The group says the mandatory pork checkoff violates the U.S. Constitution and infringes on hog producers’ right to free speech by forcing them to pay into a program that supports factory-style hog production and corporate control of the industry, and is detrimental to their interests.

“We don’t support the mandatory pork checkoff program. Our checkoff dollars help packers and retailers, not hog farmers,” said hog farmer Monica Kahout, a member of the Land Stewardship Project and a CFF spokesperson. “That’s why our share of the pork dollar has declined, while packers’ profits are up. Even after a majority of American hog farmers voted to end the pork checkoff, we’re still being forced to pay it. It’s just plain wrong. We shouldn’t be forced to pay for a program that works against us.”

The pork checkoff program was started in 1986 after Congress passed a law mandating that hog farmers pay into the fund. It generates about $45-$50 million annually. Money collected under the program goes to the National Pork Board. In recent years, most of that money ended up in the coffers of the National Pork Producers Council.

The mandatory pork checkoff has been controversial among hog farmers for many years now. In 1998, the Campaign for Family Farms initiated a national petition drive calling for a hog farmer referendum to decide if the program should be ended. That led to a vote conducted by the USDA in August-September 2000 in which over 30,000 U.S. hog producers voted 53% to 47% to terminate the mandatory pork checkoff. Following the announcement of the vote results in January 2001, then-U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman ordered the termination of the program.

However, in a move that shocked hog farmers, the industry and various members of Congress, newly appointed Ag Secretary Ann Veneman cut a backroom deal with the National Pork Producers Council in February 2001 to throw out the results of the democratic vote and force hog farmers to keep paying the checkoff. This action led to the Campaign’s lawsuit against USDA which includes a specific claim that the mandatory pork checkoff violates hog producers’ constitutional rights by infringing on the First Amendment.

“Judge Kornmann’s ruling is a victory for family farm livestock producers, and will help sustain hog farmers as we move forward in our lawsuit,” said hog and cattle producer Rhonda Perry, a member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and a CFF spokesperson. “The beef checkoff, like the pork checkoff, has taken money out of the pockets of independent producers without their choice, and worked against their interests. We object to the mandatory pork checkoff on constitutional grounds, and are now awaiting the disposition of our case.”

The Campaign for Family Farms is a coalition of farm and rural groups that are leading the fight against the corporate takeover of the hog industry and working for policies that support independent family farmers. CFF member groups include Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Land Stewardship Project, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

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Published in In Motion Magazine, June 26, 2002.

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