Saying they violate farmers' rights of free speech and association, a federal judge in Michigan has ruled that the checkoff provisions of the Pork Production, Research and Consumer Education Act of 1985 are unconstitutional.

In a scathing critique of checkoff programs in general, U.S. District Court Richard Alan Enslen ordered USDA to cease collection of assessments under the Pork Act and to cease the operation of the Pork Checkoff Program effective 30 days from the issuance of his final judgment.

“Even aside from the important political and philosophical objections to such speech, the commercial interests of objecting producers to such speech is ample,” said Enslen. “In days of low return on agricultural commodities, the decision of an individual farmer to devote funds to uses other than generic advertising are very important.”

The judge noted that farmer frustrations “are likely to only mount when those funds are used to pay for competitors' advertising, thereby depriving the farmer of the ability to pay for either niche advertising or non-advertising essentials (such as feed for livestock).”

This is true, he said, whether objecting farmers are correct in their economic analysis that the assessments and speech do not sufficiently further their own particular interests.

“In short, whether this speech is considered on either philosophical, political or commercial grounds, it involves a kind of outrage which Jefferson loathed,” he said. “The government has been made tyrannical by forcing men and women to pay for messages they detest. Such a system is at the bottom unconstitutional and rotten.”