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Hog Farmers Hail U.S. Court of Appeals
Beef Checkoff Ruling

Bryce Oates

Rochester, Illinois

Cattle on the Jarrett ranch in eastern Colorado.
Cattle on the Jarrett ranch in eastern Colorado. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
Livestock producers are applauding the July 10, 2003 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals Eight Circuit affirming a District Courts decision that the mandatory beef checkoff program was unconstitutional and should be terminated. The Court held that “the district court did not err in holding that the Beef Act and the Beef Order are unconstitutional and unenforceable.” The Court also rejected “the suggestion that a portion of the assessments may continue to be collected because some of the funds are spent on activities other than commercial or political speech.”

Independent hog farmers and the Campaign for Family Farms (CFF) are involved in a similar appeal pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio. On October 25, 2002, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Enslen ruled in the Western District of Michigan federal court that the mandatory pork checkoff was “unconstitutional and rotten.” Judge Enslen agreed with independent hog producers and the CFF that the mandatory pork checkoff violated the U.S. Constitution and infringed on hog producers' right to free speech by forcing them to pay into a program they believe supports factory-style hog production, corporate control of the industry, and is detrimental to their interests. A decision from the Sixth Circuit is expected soon.

In 2001, the United States Supreme Court held the mushroom checkoff in violation of the mushroom growers' First Amendment rights by compelling them to pay for messages in which they did not agree.

Yesterday’s Eighth Circuit followed the Supreme Court ruling on the mushroom checkoff, holding the beef checkoff, “in all material respects, identical to the mushroom checkoff.” The district court ruling in the pork checkoff case found the pork checkoff similar to the mushroom checkoff and likewise should be terminated.

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 Secretary of Agriculture 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.

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 Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Land Stewardship Project (MN), and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

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Published in In Motion Magazine, July 12, 2003

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