In a scathing critique of checkoff programs in general, U.S. District Court Richard Alan Enslen ordered USDA to cease collection of assessments under the Pork Act and to cease the operation of the Pork Check-off Program effective 30 days from the issuance of his final judgment.
“Even aside from the important political and philosophical objections to such speech, the commercial interests of objecting producers to such speech is ample,” said Enslen. “In days of low return on agricultural commodities, the decision of an individual farmer to devote funds to uses other than generic advertising are very important.”
The judge noted that farmer frustrations “are likely to only mount when those funds are used to pay for competitors’ advertising, thereby depriving the farmer of the ability to pay for either niche advertising or non-advertising essentials (such as feed for livestock).”
This is true, he said, whether objecting farmers are correct in their economic analysis that the assessments and speech do not sufficiently further their own particular interests.
“In short, whether this speech is considered on either philosophical, political or commercial grounds, it involves a kind of outrage which Jefferson loathed,” he said. “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.”
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said she was disappointed with the ruling, saying USDA regards “such programs, when properly administered, as effective tools for market enhancement.”
Pork producers currently pay an assessment of 45 cents on each $100 of pork per hog sold. The funds go to research and marketing programs designed to increase sales of pork both in the United States and abroad.
In his 33-page decision, Judge Enslen was ruling on a motion for a summary judgment and motion to strike requested by Michigan Pork Producers, National Pork Producers Council, Pete Blauwikel, Bob Bloomer, High Lean Pork, Inc., California Pork Producers, Kentucky Pork Producers, Indiana Pork Producers, New York Pork Producers, and Ohio Pork Producers.
He denied their motion and advised the defendants that they must take up any further requests for stays or other motions with the U.S. Court of Appeals. He granted a motion to dismiss sought by the Campaign for Family Farms, James Dale Joens, Richard Smith, Rhonda Perry and Lawrence Ginter, all of Michigan.
Secretary Veneman said USDA is consulting with the U.S. Department of Justice to determine the next steps regarding the matter.