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Published: Saturday, 6/30/2001

Opinions on checkoff ruling vary


Ad campaigns such as “The other white meat” and “Got milk?” are likely to draw more lawsuits from the people who pay their bills after a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week that threw out a program to promote mushrooms.

The court determined that program was unconstitutional, saying mushroom processors do not have to pay for it.

Many promotional groups whose funding comes from similar taxes - which farmers and food processors call checkoffs - say they don't expect this week's court decision to set a precedent in their industry.

“The mushroom program is as different from the beef checkoff as the mushroom industry is from the beef industry,” the Cattlemen's Beef Board said.

But several agricultural economists said otherwise.

“I think basically everything is at risk,” said Richard Sexton, an agricultural economist at the University of California at Davis. He expects several lawsuits.

Said Ron Ward, a University of Florida economist who has followed such campaigns in citrus for 30 years: “It absolutely opens up Pandora's box.”

Most at risk, he explained, are campaigns funded in part by companies that advertise their own brand name. For instance, almonds and pork both have well advertised brand names. Corn and soybeans - the biggest local crops - do not.

A bigger factor likely will be whether the industry has agreed to many regulations, Mr. Sexton said. The courts seem to favor ad campaigns that are part of a much larger package.

Almost every industry with a group advertising campaign has at least one element that is unhappy and has tens of thousands of dollars to spend in court, economists said.

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