A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a 2002 ruling by a Michigan federal judge that the pork checkoff program is unconstitutional, reports the National Pork Board.

Congress created the pork checkoff so pork producers could provide promotion, research and consumer information about pork. Producers invest $.40 for each $100 value of hogs and pigs sold.

The court action stems from a federal lawsuit focusing on whether the checkoff program violates the First Amendment rights of producers who disagree with the messages contained in checkoff-funded promotional messages.

“This is disappointing news for America's pork producers,” says Craig Christensen, Pork Board president and a 2,000-sow, farrow-to-finish producer, Ogden, IA. “At the same time, we recognize this is just one more step in a lengthy legal process in which the pork checkoff is represented by the U.S. government.”

“I am disappointed that the U.S. Court of Appeals did not overturn the lower court's ruling,” says Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. “USDA regards such programs, when properly administered, as effective tools for market enhancement.” USDA is consulting with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which has 45 days from the Oct. 22 ruling to ask for a rehearing by the Sixth Circuit Court. DOJ can also request a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pork Board member Danita Rodibaugh of Rensselaer, IN, adds it is vital to the industry's future for the checkoff to withstand the court challenge. “The checkoff was established so that producers could accomplish together what we cannot do individually. I personally believe, as an independent producer, losing the checkoff would be a detriment to my ability to remain competitive,” she says.

The checkoff has helped make the U.S. a net exporter of pork, with 11 consecutive years of increased exports, says Christensen. Before the pork checkoff, the U.S. was a net importer of pork.

Maybe the biggest impact of losing the checkoff would be the inability to tell consumers how pork is raised and that it is safe, high quality and nutritious. “If we lose that, we lose a big advantage to other food and protein sources,” says Christensen.