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Appeals court hears arguments on pork checkoff

(Monday, March 17, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- The following is from a March 14 news release.

Contact: Rhonda Perry, cross-plaintiff and Missouri hog farmer 573-808-6013 (cell)

Susan Stokes, attorney, Farmers’ Legal Action Group 612-387-5577 (cell)

Bryce Oates, Missouri Rural Crisis Center office, 573-449-1336 (office)

CINCINNATI, OHIO -- Oral arguments on the constitutionality of the mandatory pork checkoff were heard today in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and the National Pork Producers Council are appealing a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Richard Enslen who ruled in favor of the Campaign for Family Farms and individual hog farmers that the mandatory pork checkoff infringes on hog farmers’ right to free speech.

Judge Enslen ruled that the checkoff forces hog farmers to pay into a program that they believe is contrary to their interests because it supports factory-style hog production and corporate control of the industry. The checkoff, therefore, is“unconstitutional and rotten,” Judge Enslen ruled.

Judge Enslen’s ruling can be found at http://www.miwd.uscourts.gov/profile/Pork.judgment.pdf

“Today we fought for our rights again in court,” said Missouri hog farmer Rhonda Perry, a member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and a spokesperson for the Campaign for Family Farms. “We’re going to see this through. Hog farmers should not be forced to pay into a mandatory checkoff that supports Smithfield, Cargill, and Hormel, and hurts independent family farmers. We believe justice will be served and this unfair and failed pork checkoff will be ended because it is unconstitutional.”

Susan Stokes, legal director for Farmers’ Legal Action Group and attorney for the Campaign for Family Farms, said, “This appeal is just one of many hurdles that these hog farmers have had to overcome in order to terminate the checkoff, and they've been vindicated every step of the way. Judge Enslen’s opinion is well-reasoned and correct. We hope the Court of Appeals will affirm his decision so that the rights of hog farmers will once again be vindicated.”

The effort by independent hog farmers to end the mandatory pork checkoff began in April 1998, when the Campaign for Family Farms launched a petition drive that succeeded in generating more than 19,000 hog farmer signatures calling for a referendum to end the mandatory checkoff. In August and September 2000, hog farmers voted to end the pork checkoff by a 53% to 47% margin in a nationwide referendum conducted by USDA, which was announced by USDA on January 11, 2001. At that point, Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton Administration, ordered the termination of the mandatory pork checkoff.

Then, in a move that shocked hog farmers and other citizens across the country, new Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman threw out the results of the hog farmers’ vote shortly after the start of the Bush Administration, and continued to require hog farmers to pay the fee that they had voted out.

“I’m looking to the courts to do justice for hog farmers, because there is no justice in the pork checkoff,” said Minnesota hog farmer Jim Joens, a member of the Land Stewardship Project and a spokesperson for the Campaign for Family Farms. “I sold hogs on Friday last week, and had to pay the checkoff to the National Pork Board again, despite the fact that hog farmers voted to end it and a federal judge ruled it was unconstitutional. As far as I am concerned, the mandatory pork checkoff has put independent hog farmers in harm’s way and created a misperception of who hog farmers are and what we stand for. It’s got to end.”

Since November 25, 2002, when Judge Enslen’s ruling to cease collection of the pork checkoff would have gone into effect, approximately $12,286,000 has been collected from American hog farmers. A staggering $113,664,000 has been collected by the discredited pork checkoff since the hog farmers’ vote to terminate it in the nationwide referendum was announced in January 2001. The mandatory fee is assessed on every hog sold in the United States, at a rate of 40 cents per $100 of sale value.

“It’s nothing short of tyrannical to continue to force hog farmers to pay millions of dollars into a program that ultimately leads to their demise,” said Iowa farmer Larry Ginter, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and a spokesperson for the Campaign for Family Farms. “The pork checkoff helps factory farms, not family farms, and it is time for it to end.”

The Campaign for Family Farms (CFF) 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 the Land Stewardship Project (Minnesota), Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and Illinois Stewardship Alliance. Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) represents CFF and the individual hog farmers in the lawsuit.