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Mushroom Checkoff Declared Unconstitutional
by Nation’s Highest Court

Campaign for Family Farms
Washington, DC

In a case that could have far-reaching impacts on all commodity checkoff programs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the mandatory mushroom checkoff violates the First Amendment free-speech rights of mushroom producers. The Campaign for Family Farms (CFF), the group suing USDA to uphold hog farmers’ democratic vote to end the mandatory pork tax, applauded the 6-3 decision in United States vs. United Foods.

CFF joined with other family farm organizations (the Western Organization of Resource Councils - WORC) in a friend of the court brief filed in the mushroom case, arguing that the mushroom checkoff be declared unconstitutional because it “compels producers to finance and/or to be associated with political or ideological speech to which they are opposed.” The parallels between the mushroom and pork and beef checkoffs are strong, with all three programs spending the vast majority of funds on advertising programs that benefit corporate producers and processors instead of independent family farmers.

Last fall, over 30,000 hog farmers voted 53% to 47% in a nationwide referendum to end the mandatory pork tax. Hog farmers voted to end the pork tax because it is undemocratic, hasn’t benefited them economically, and is being used to promote factory farms and corporate concentration in agriculture.

“This is just one more example of what we’ve been saying all along. The mandatory pork checkoff is taxation without representation,” said hog farmer Rhonda Perry, a Missouri Rural Crisis Center member and spokesperson for the CFF. “Producers voted it down. It’s no surprise that the only ones interested in keeping the tax in place are the USDA and the organization that gets the majority of the pork tax, National Pork Producers Council.”

“We voted and won at the ballot box. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court rules the mushroom checkoff is unconstitutional. Why is Secretary Veneman insisting we keep paying the pork tax?” asks hog farmer Monica Kahout, a member of the Land Stewardship Project and spokesperson for the CFF. “It is time for the Secretary of Agriculture to admit she is wrong, honor our vote, and terminate the mandatory pork checkoff. Anything less from this Administration is unacceptable.”

The Campaign for Family Farms organized the campaign to end the mandatory pork checkoff. Member groups include the Land Stewardship Project, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

Published in In Motion Magazine, July 5, 2001

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