Hog Farmer Assessments Raised Millions for Ad Buys Each Year

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A federal judge ruled that fees collected from hog farmers to fund advertsing for pork, including the one touting it as "the other white meat," are "unconstitutional and rotten."

Violates First Amendment
The fees, known as a "checkoff" that collects 45 cents per $100 of every hog sold in America, raise $46 million to $48 million annually, of which about $30 million goes into advertising and promotion. According to the ruling, the checkoff violated the First Amendment by illegally forcing producers who didn't want to advertise or provide a particular message to still have to bear the cost.

All U.S. hog farmers pay

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the fees for the advertising program, which began in 1986. U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen of Michigan ordered the collection of funds to cease Nov. 24.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by the Campaign for Family Farms, a group representing small hog-farmers, against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The group argued that the government-mandated fees benefitted larger corporate-backed hogging operations. The group claimed the ad campaign, from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Mithun, Chicago, for the National Pork Board promoted processed meat, not the hogs that the family farmers it represented sold.

Cites Thomas Jefferson
The judge, citing Thomas Jefferson, said the government is "forcing men and women to pay for messages they detest. Such a system is at the bottom unconstitutional and rotten."

The government, along with the National Pork Producers Council, a trade group representing larger operations, defended the advertising as "government speech" and therefore not a required contribution, and added that the secretary of agriculture oversees the board that contracts for the ads.

The suit was filed after a referendum last year calling for the abolition of the fees was overruled by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who sided with the National Pork Producers and agreed not to terminate the checkoff program. The Pork Producers had sued to invalidate the results of the referendum and the Campaign for Family Farms countersued. It was left to the judge to resolve the original issues.

The National Pork Producers Council has requested that the Agriculture Department seek a stay during which time the checkoff would continue as the case is appealed.

Ms. Veneman in a statement said she was disappointed and was consulting Justice Department attorneys on how to proceed.

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