Pork Checkoff lawsuit revived

Lawsuit alleges funds were unlawfully used for lobbying efforts.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia revived Aug. 14 a lawsuit involving the pork checkoff that has been dismissed for nearly two years.

The original Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) et al v. Vilsack lawsuit, filed by HSUS, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and an independent pig farmer, alleged the pork industry’s “"Pork, The Other White Meat"” trademark slogan was sold unlawfully to fund National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) lobbying efforts.

In the initial lawsuit, the plaintiffs sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack under the Administrative Procedure Act for approving the trademark purchase and National Pork Board’s (NPB) annual payments to NPPC.

NPB reached an agreement in 2006 to acquire the “Other White” marketing message from NPPC for $3 million per year for 20 years -- $60 million -- for the message (Feedstuffs, March 13, 2006).The payment was based on what it would cost NPB to develop a new marketing message and raise it to the level of recognition that "Other White" had achieved.

HSUS said the payment violated the enabling legislation that established the national pork checkoff in 1985, which prohibits checkoff funds from being used for government/public affairs work (Feedstuffs, Oct. 1, 2012). The plaintiffs asked the court to cancel the unlawful purchase and ensure that the remaining balance would benefit the producers who fund the checkoff instead of NPPC’s lobbying.

The court dismissed the HSUS case September 25, 2013, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing and that no one had suffered any injury from Vilsack’s actions.

While not directly involved in the lawsuit, a NPB spokesperson said that the facts of the case have not yet been litigated and that the court’s recent action is “just one step in a very lengthy legal process.”

A USDA spokesperson said, "The Court of Appeal's decision was based on a procedural issue, and does not address the basic issue in the case that the assessments and expenditures by the National Pork Board were proper. USDA and DOJ will be reviewing the court's decision to determine how to proceed in defending the case.

"Because the case is in active litigation, we do not want to comment on the substance of the issues, but those will be laid out in our pleadings in the litigation."

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