Although a recent district court ruling isn’t directly associated with the National Pork Checkoff, the impact could be severe in the long run.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kornmann has ruled that the beef checkoff program is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment. On the surface, the issue centers on the fact that some checkoff dollars are used to advertise beef and as a contributing cattleman “I may not agree with the message being sent.” It also centers on the perception that foodservice and retailers benefit from these promotional efforts, not just cattlemen. Then there’s the rub that checkoff efforts promote “all beef” not just “U.S. beef.”

Under the surface, producer frustration—or misperception— that the checkoff “has not raised cattle prices” and “has not made cattlemen more money” drives the challenges. One can argue the reality of checkoff, what is does and doesn’t do literally until the cows come home without impacting overall understanding.

The point now is, the district court based in South Dakota has ordered all beef checkoff collections to end as of July 15. Of course, the ruling will be appealed, and we could eventually see the topic end up in the U.S. Supreme Court just as we have with many similar actions before it.

Every time a checkoff ruling occurs, ag industry groups hold their breath because these rulings are all about precedence— depending on the case and program similarities, these decisions can make other checkoff programs vulnerable to similar rulings.

Pork checkoff opponents were quick to step forward to applaud the beef ruling. You will find some of the same players and many of the same arguments rallying against the pork checkoff as the beef checkoff.

The pork industry is waiting for a Western Michigan district court judge to rule on the constitutionality of its national checkoff program. Both the National Pork Producers Council and the Campaign for Family Farms asked the judge for a ruling on this matter, which remains in limbo. The National Pork Board is confident that the Pork Act is constitutional. The South Dakota decision is not binding in the Michigan court, points out NPB in a statement. That’s true, but the “buck” may not stop there.

Current USDA officials are not happy with the beef ruling and have been strong supporters of the pork checkoff.

That’s all fine, but when the courts enter the picture, things can get muddy—things can change. The fact that the reoccurring theme of “big vs. small farms” enters into the checkoff debates suggests these challenges aren’t going away anytime soon.