October 28, 2003

 

 

US' Nebraska's Unconstitutional Pork Checkoff Program Affects Local Pork Producers

 

A US federal appeals court's ruling that the national pork checkoff program is unconstitutional will affect Nebraska's pork producers, one state agricultural association leader said.

 

The program collects 40 cents for every $100 in hog sales producers make. The 6th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled this week that the mandatory checkoff, which funds the well-known marketing pitch that touts pork as "the other white meat", violates pork producers' right to free speech.

 

The checkoff also finances research and consumer information programs.

 

Rod Johnson, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association, said the outcome of the ruling did not quite surprise him, since another federal court has declared a similar beef checkoff program unconstitutional.

 

However, the ruling could hurt family hog producers who rely on the checkoff to promote pork, Johnson said.

 

"The only way independent family producers and the majority of the producers can have an effect on what is going on in the industry is to be united," Johnson said. "If that united voice and united funding goes away, then it is going to put the power in the hands of the largest players.

 

"It is just going to work negatively against the average producer out there."

 

Johnson said the checkoff program is funding six research projects at the University of Nebraska dealing with odor control, disease and nutrition.

 

Other research projects funded by the checkoff program have resulted in quality products, good animal welfare, increased production and more efficient producers, Johnson said.

 

The knowledge gleaned through the research programs is taken to the producers, who have access to it through the educational aspects provided by the checkoff, he added.

 

While checkoff dollars collected in Nebraska are paid to the national program, Nebraska receives about $425,000 annually for local programs, said Johnson, whose organization administers checkoff dollars in the state.

 

"We have seen the program at work, and are confident it works on the behalf of all pork producers, regardless of type or size of operation," said Dave Hansen, president Nebraska Pork Producers Association and a pork producer from Hartington.

 

"Naturally, we are extremely disappointed in the announcement," Hansen said.

 

The decision is widely supported by the Campaign for Family Farms, a Missouri-based coalition of small hog farmers, which had argued that the program violated free speech by requiring farmers to fund promotions they did not necessarily benefit from or agree with.