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Cotton checkoff lawsuit is dismissed

The United States Court of International Trade has dismissed a claim filed in August 2003 against the Cotton Research and Promotion Act by Cricket Hosiery, Inc., The William Carter Company, Artex International, Inc., and others.

“This is a decision we obviously welcome,” said William P. Crawford, president and CEO of the Memphis-based Cotton Board — the administrative and oversight arm of the Cotton Research and Promotion Program. “Now we can turn our full attention toward the original intent of this program — building markets for cotton.”

The plaintiffs claimed the mandatory checkoff in the Cotton Research and Promotion Act violated their constitutional free speech, free association, and due process rights. “The judge certainly considered the decision and reasoning behind the most recent Supreme Court decision rendered in May 2005,” Crawford said.

In that case, members of the Livestock Marketing Association, a Nebraska-based producer group sued USDA in district court, claiming they were being forced to support a program whose message they did not agree with. The $1-per-head checkoff provides funding for several industry promotional efforts such as the “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner” campaign.

Six justices on the Supreme Court agreed with the majority opinion that the beef promotion program was exempt from First Amendment scrutiny because it constitutes “government speech.”

“The members and alternates of the Cotton Board place great value on the past and future successes of the Cotton Research and Promotion Program, and we are eager to continue our efforts to guide this program forward,” said Nancy A. Marino, senior vice president, Global Sourcing, Sara Lee Branded Apparel and current chairman of the Cotton Board.

The Cotton Research and Promotion Program is funded by U.S. cotton producers and U.S. importers of cotton and cotton textile products. It is administered and governed by the Cotton Board, the fiduciary and oversight arm of the program, while research and promotion activities are developed and implemented by Cotton Incorporated.

The program is designed and operated to improve the demand for and profitability of cotton. As a commodity market development program created by Congress, the program is subject to regulatory guidance from USDA.

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