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NPPC to USDA: Defend 'Other White Meat' saleNPPC to USDA: Defend 'Other White Meat' sale

Pork industry upset after USDA enters settlement talks with Humane Society of United States.

Krissa Welshans 1

March 23, 2016

4 Min Read
NPPC to USDA: Defend 'Other White Meat' sale

The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to receive one united message from the U.S. pork industry: Defend the U.S. pork industry by upholding a purchase agreement between the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

NPPC sold in 2006 to the Pork Board “The Other White Meat” slogan and pork chop logo for about $35 million. NPPC financed the purchase over 20 years, making the Pork Board’s annual payment $3 million.

The sale involved a lengthy negotiation in which both parties were represented by legal counsel, and USDA, which oversees the federal pork checkoff program administered by the Pork Board, approved the purchase.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), an Iowa farmer and the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement in 2012 filed a lawsuit against USDA seeking to have the sale rescinded after claiming that it was a way for the industry to use checkoff funds to finance the lobbying efforts of NPPC.

Initially, USDA defended the lawsuit, and a U.S. district court dismissed it for lack of standing, but a federal appeals court reinstated the suit in August 2015. Before any court proceedings on the merits of the suit commenced, however, USDA changed course and entered into settlement talks with HSUS, causing outrage in the pork industry.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Rep. David Rouzer (R., N.C.) during questioning at a House Agriculture Committee hearing that the pork industry had been involved in the decision to enter settlement talks and in the discussion. However, he has since backtracked on this after the pork industry said it had never agreed to a settlement or been part of the negotiations.

“I may have gotten a little ahead of my skis here and may have mischaracterized the conversations,” Vilsack said during a recent discussion held by the Bipartisan Policy Center. “The conversations have been about what is the consequence of losing and is there a way in which things could be worked out that would be both beneficial to the industry and also would prevent us from an adverse court decision.”

He said discussion of a potential settlement arose from “preliminary motions within the case, which suggest that the courts may have some serious concerns about this.”

Vilsack said USDA has been directed by the court to see if there is any common ground. Regarding the pork industry, he said "we probably need to get more involved in these conversations than we have, and I have directed our team to make sure they are fully briefed on what's going on.”

In a March 23 meeting with USDA's Office of General Counsel, representatives of NPPC even demanded that the agency defend the National Pork Board's purchase of the “Pork. The Other White Meat” trademarked assets from NPPC.

According to NPPC president John Weber and NPPC chief executive officer Neil Dierks, who met with USDA’s general counsel and reiterated the pork industry’s objection to any settlement, there was no indication during the meeting where the agency stands on the case.

“We’re concerned that even though USDA has a very strong legal position, it isn’t defending a contract it approved,”  Weber said. “We’re concerned that it already has thrown in the towel.”

Capitulation by USDA would be met with universal anger from pork producers around the country, Dierks said, pointing to unanimous approval by NPPC elected delegates at their recent annual meeting of a resolution calling on USDA to rely on the judgment of the Pork Board for the management and execution of checkoff activities.

In the meeting, Weber and Dierks pointed out that the trademarks, particularly the pork chop logo, are still are being used by the National Pork Board, contrary to what USDA has said. Additionally, they said regardless of how each of the trademarks is being used, the phenomenal recognition and awareness of them continue to make the trademarks some of the most valuable intellectual property in existence today.The purchase agreement was for fair market value and continues to make sense for the Pork Board to perform under the contract, which provides a valuable service to the entire pork industry, they added.

Weber and Dierks also raised the issue of allowing a disgruntled, purported hog farmer to bring down an entire agreement, which would set a bad precedent for all checkoff programs and federally approved contracts.

USDA admitted that it doesn’t know – and never asked – whether the farmer raises hogs or whether he has been paying into the pork checkoff program.

NPPC also urged USDA to follow the 1985 Pork Act, which created the pork checkoff program and gave authority to the Pork Board, through its board of directors, delegates and committees – collectively representing all pork producers – to make decisions about checkoff funds and programs. 

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