Split court backs commodity ads

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The U.S. Supreme Court, on a 5-to-4 vote, reversed a U.S. circuit court of appeals decision that would have permitted peach growers to opt out of mandatory payments to a U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity promotion program. A California farm group, Agricultural Issues Forum, called the decision a major victory for generic advertising for agricultural commodities, and said the Supreme Court ruling settles that such programs don't violate growers' free speech. The lower court decision had threatened the future of federal programs that raise more than $625 million a year for commodity advertising and promotion programs. A peach grower that balked at the mandatory contributions charged the program was "forced speech." The grower said it preferred to spend its money on its own brand-specific promotions. The high court majority said the program benefits all growers' businesses and doesn't compel anyone to support an ideological view, so therefore isn't forced speech. The court minority said the required marketing payments constituted an illegal restriction on commercial free speech.

Copyright June 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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