Free Speech War on the Range: Legal Challenges to Nation's Commodity Checkoff Programs

October 1, 2002

Eric Schippers

   Got Milk?
   The question may sound innocuous, but for many of America’s independent farmers and ranchers, that marketing slogan and others like it represents compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment.
   In addition to the ubiquitous milk moustache, the nation’s agricultural commodity promotion programs — known as “checkoffs” — are responsible for such well-known ads as: “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner” and “Ahh, The Power of Cheese.” Authorized by Congress, run by agricultural producers, and overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than a dozen checkoff programs for various agricultural commodities are funded through mandatory assessments on farmers and ranchers based on a portion of their sales. The beef checkoff, for example, raises more than $80 million annually from beef producers who are
assessed $1 per head of cattle sold.

Free Speech War on the Range: Legal Challenges to Nation's Commodity Checkoff Programs