Iowa Public Television


Court Rules Milk Checkoff Unconstituional

posted on February 27, 2004

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.

There are many ways to gauge the health of the nation's economy, but one of the most closely watched yardsticks is gross domestic product, or GDP.

GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced in the United States. And the government's latest reading on GDP shows America's economy is growing nicely.

Bolstered by brisk business spending, GDP in the fourth quarter last year jumped 4.1 percent, well above most predictions. That news offset more recent drops in consumer confidence and factory orders.

In the country, the issues of merit lately seem more litigious than economic. For instance, Tyson Foods this week asked a federal judge in Alabama to throw out the $1.2 billion-dollar verdict that found the company illegally manipulated cattle prices. And in Pennsylvania, another federal court was ruling on an issue that will impact dairy producers across the nation.

Court Rules Milk Checkoff Unconstituional A federal appeals court in Philadelphia this week ruled the "Got Milk/" dairy promotion violates the free speech rights of farmers who are forced to pay for the ads. The unanimous decision overturns a lower court ruling that dairy farmers had to contribute to the National Dairy Promotion Board campaign.

The original lawsuit alleged the ads do little to support sustainable agriculture products, such as milk from cows that are NOT injected with hormones.

"Got Milk" joins a growing list of clever industry promotions whose government-backed funding has been found in violation of the First Amendment.

A federal appeals court ruled last July that ranchers could NOT be forced to pay a $1-per-head fee on cattle to support the marketing campaign that spawned the slogan, "Beef: It's What's For Dinner." A separate court in October struck down a similar fee that supported ads for the pork industry.

In the latest ruling against so-called checkoffs, the Philadelphia court said the government's interest in promoting the dairy industry wasn't substantial enough to justify an infringement on the free speech rights of producers by requiring them to help pay for the ads.

Lawyers defending the law on behalf of USDA argued that because dairy prices and distribution are tightly regulated, a joint marketing campaign is the only effective way to compete with other beverages.

Tags: agriculture courts dairy milk news