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Pork Checkoff is Unconstitutional!

"A huge victory for independent family farmers"

Campaign for Family Farms
Columbia, Missouri

October 28th, 2002 -- Hog farmers are applauding the October 25 ruling by a Federal Judge in Michigan that the mandatory pork checkoff program is unconstitutional and should be terminated within 30 days. This ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by the Campaign for Family Farms (CFF) claiming that the checkoff was unconstitutional. The ruling can be viewed at

“We’re elated. Christmas came early this year!” said Dale Leslein, a hog farmer member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and a CFF spokesperson. “We’ve been fighting hard to end the mandatory pork checkoff because it does not represent the interests of independent hog farmers. It is time for it to end.”

In the October 25 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Enslen said that through the pork checkoff program, “the government has been made tyrannical by forcing men and women to pay for messages they detest. Such a system is at the bottom unconstitutional and rotten.”

Judge Enslen agreed with the Campaign for Family Farms arguments that 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.

Susan Stokes, legal director for Farmers Legal Action Group stated, “Judge Enslen’s ruling is a well-reasoned and strong opinion. We are confident that it will stand up on any appeal. This ruling grants justice to independent hog farmers across the country.”

“Hog farmers across the country worked together to end the mandatory pork checkoff,” said Minnesota hog farmer Paul Sobosinski, a member of the Land Stewardship Project and a CFF spokesperson. “Now these same hog farmers are working together with the Campaign for Family Farms and other farmers to ban packer ownership of livestock. And we're going to win that fight, too.”

“This is a huge victory for independent family farmers,” states Rhonda Perry, a hog farmer member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and CFF spokesperson. “The pork checkoff has forced family farmers to pay into a program that support corporate concentration, industrialization and the factory farm system of livestock production, which drives family farmers out of business. The end of the checkoff is long overdue.”

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. 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.

CFF also dedicated this victory to the memory of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, the family farm champion who was killed in an airplane accident on October 25th. “Paul Wellstone was the first member of Congress to stand up for hog farmers’ democratic rights when the checkoff vote was thrown out,” said Sobocinski. “His commitment to family farmers was unwavering and he never gave in to agribusiness lobbyists. I wish he was here to celebrate this victory with us.”

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 the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Land Stewardship Project and Illinois Stewardship Alliance. Farmers Legal Action Group represents CFF and the individual hog farmers in the legal challenge to the pork checkoff.

For more information, contact the Campaign for Family Farms member groups at:

  • Missouri Rural Crisis Center (573) 449-1336
  • Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (515) 282-0484
  • Land Stewardship Project (612) 722-6377
  • Illinois Stewardship Alliance (217) 498-9707

Published in In Motion Magazine, October 28, 2002

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