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Court ruling on checkoff should increase accountability

DENVER—More accountability to producers should be the result of the June 25 Supreme Court ruling in the case of United States versus United Foods, said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) President Dave Carter.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the mandatory mushroom checkoff program violates the First Amendment rights of producers. United Foods, Inc. argued that the checkoff forced it to pay for advertisements that also helped its competitors. Defending the mushroom checkoff was the U.S. Justice Department, which argued that the generic advertising paid for by checkoff funds benefits all producers.

RMFU supports checkoff programs that function to increase producers’ prices by increasing demand for their product. “Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in a lot of checkoff programs is the formation of a checkoff board bureaucracy and the amassing of a large staff, while the intent of the program goes by the wayside,” Carter said. “Producers also are offended when checkoff boards use producer monies to fund advertising campaigns and promotions for retailers or wholesalers who are in a much better financial position to fund their own promotions.”

In addition, RMFU favors voluntary checkoff programs over mandatory ones.
“If checkoffs were increasing the producer’s bottom line, checkoff boards would not have to worry about the programs being disbanded,” said Carter.

The ruling brings into question the constitutionality of all mandatory checkoff programs, including the pork checkoff program that was voted down by producers last year and then reinstated by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.