Dairy Checkoff Loses Court Round

Federal appeals court rules that the mandatory fee is private - not government - speech. Compiled by staff

Published on: Feb 25, 2004

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Court in Philadelphia has reversed a district court ruling that favored the dairy checkoff. In its ruling the appeals court comments that it reversed the judgment of the district court and hold "that compelled speech pursuant to the Dairy Act is private speech, not government speech, and…is therefore subject to First Amendment scrutiny."

The court adds that the checkoff violates the plaintiff's free speech and association rights by compelling them to "subsidize speech in which they disagree." The checkoff program helps support such marketing efforts as the "Got Milk?" campaign that has become popular and often duplicated by other businesses.

Ag Secretary Ann Veneman issued a statement saying her department was aware of the ruling and adds: "USDA regards such programs, when properly administered, as effective tools for market enhancement. We are consulting with the U.S. Department of Justice to determine the next steps regarding this matter."

This is the latest loss in court for a checkoff program with the beef and pork initiatives headed to the U.S. Supreme Court for appeal.