Another Supreme Court ruling may signal the end of a battle that’s pitted livestock producers against promoters of meat consumption, all over the issue of checkoff funds. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against check-off critics, saying that collecting a beef checkoff from cattle farmers is legal under the federal constitutional. Mike Wegner, a spokesman for the National Pork Board, says in its most recent case, the high court ordered that an appeals court in Cincinatti must heed that ruling in reconsidering the national pork checkoff. Wegner says the ruling is fairly technical, but the Supreme Court concluded the “speech” employed in the beef checkoff is government speech, and thus not subject to a first-amendment challenge. Some groups had argued their free speech was harmed because they had to pay for checkoff campaigns promoting the meat from their animals. There was another challenge, to the pork checkoff. It had come through the courts in Michigan, up through the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinatti, and was just waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on the similar beef case. This week, the court set aside that lower-court ruling, which had gone against the pork checkoff. While it didn’t resolve the matter, the Supreme Court did order the appeals court to take another look — and to take into consideration its recent ruling that upheld the beef checkoff. Wegner says both the beef and pork checkoffs were created about the same time by Congress in 1986, and are roughly similar, though not identical. The beef checkoff collects a dollar a head from cattle farmers. The pork checkoff currently taps producers for 40-cents on each 100-dollars of income from selling their hogs. The money’s used by the Pork Board for research, promotion and consumer information. Critics charge the Pork Board primarily benefits big, corporate producers over small, family farmers.
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