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DES MOINES - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that the pork checkoff is unconstitutional, upholding a November 2002 decision by a federal court judge in Michigan.
The pork checkoff was created by Congress so all pork producers would contribute to a fund for promotion, research, and consumer information about pork. The federal lawsuit and subsequent appeal focused on whether the checkoff violates the First Amendment rights of some producers who disagree with specific checkoff promotional messages.
"This is disappointing news for America's pork producers," said Craig Christensen, a pork producer from Ogden, Iowa and president of the National Pork Board, which collects checkoff funds and manages checkoff-funded programs.
At the same time, Christensen said, "We recognize this is just one more step in a lengthy legal process in which the pork checkoff is represented by the U.S. government."
Until directed otherwise, the pork checkoff will continue to provide programs for all producers to increase the demand for pork and to provide access to the knowledge and opportunities that allow all producers to be competitive, according to Christensen.
The U.S. Department of Justice, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will determine the next steps in the legal process.
The Department of Justice, which has 45 days to decide whether to ask for a rehearing by the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, also can seek review of the case by the U.S. Supreme Court. Christensen said that the USDA and the Department of Justice have supported the pork checkoff program throughout the legal process.
Since 1987, the checkoff has been at work for producers to promote pork, to increase demand for pork, to expand markets for pork, and to provide on-farm information.
"The success of the pork checkoff has been well documented," Christensen said, noting the "Pork. The Other White Meat" campaign, which has become one of the United States' most recognized advertising taglines. "We all invest in the checkoff, and the checkoff delivers."