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February 26, 2004   Email to Friend 

FEDERAL COURT RULES "GOT MILK?" VIOLATES FREEDOM OF SPEECH
National Dairy Promotion Board expected to appeal.
Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
February 26, 2004

A federal appeals court has ruled that forcing dairy farmers to participate in the national dairy checkoff program which funds promotions such as ""Got Milk?" violates their free speech.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a unanimous decision, which overturned a lower court ruling that a Pennsylvania dairy farmer and his wife, Joseph and Brenda Cochran, had to contribute to the National Dairy Promotion Board's campaign even though the couple believed the ads did little to support sustainable products, such as milk from cows not injected with hormones.

The attorney representing the couple told the Associated Press that the court made clear that just because an industry is regulated, it doesn't mean the members of that industry lose their First Amendment rights.

Alabama Farmers Federation Commodity Director Jim Cravey called the ruling "unfortunate."

"This program helps increase demand for U.S. dairy products, and it's a program that benefits ALL dairy producers," Cravey said, who also serves as director of the Federation's Dairy Division. "This most recent ruling is just one step in the appeals process as this case moves through the courts.

"The Department of Justice has other avenues to pursue this case, and we anticipate they will do so. We're confident that the courts will ultimately rule that the dairy checkoff is good for America's dairy producers and good for the American public."

Lawyers defending the law on behalf of the US Department of Agriculture have said that because dairy prices and distribution are tightly regulated, a joint market campaign is the only effective way to compete.

"Got Milk?" is the latest industry promotion whose funding has been found in violation of the First Amendment. Similar rulings have been issues against pork and beef checkoff promotions which are being appealed.

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said her office is reviewing the recent ruling. "USDA regards such programs, when properly administered, as effective tools for market enhancement," she said. "We are consulting with the U.S. Department of Justice to determine the next steps regarding this matter."


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