In a historic move, 145 pork checkoff delegates representing 43 states and importers unanimously joined the North Carolina Pork Council in support of an advisement introduced at the National Pork Board (NPB) delegate assembly, held during the National Pork Industry Forum March 3-5 in Indianapolis, Ind. During the advisement’s introduction and discussion, NPB said all states represented in the delegate body added their name as co-sponsors to the advisement.
The North Carolina Pork Council delegation submitted the advisement at the pork forum to urge U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to defend the U.S. pork industry by upholding a purchase agreement between NPB and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). The 2006 purchase contract allows the board to purchase the “Pork. The Other White Meat” marketing positon from NPPC. The pork checkoff currently pays NPPC $3 million each year until the payment schedule is fulfilled in 2026.
In 2013, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture objecting to the agency's approval in 2006 of the contract between NPB and NPPC for NPB to purchase the "Other White Meat” trademark. The contract valued the trade mark at $34.5 million based on its replacement value and was amortized over 20 years at a negotiated interest rate, resulting in 20 years of annual payments from NPB to NPPC of $3 million.
The case was originally dismissed for lack of standing but was reinstated in 2015 by an appeals court. Subsequently, USDA entered into settlement discussions with HSUS. While USDA has not shared the terms of settlement being discussed with NPB, USDA has withheld approval of the annual payment to NPPC in 2016. Further, USDA has directed NPB to contract for another valuation of the trademark and expects to make a determination regarding approval of the 2016 payment by the middle of June.
“The fact that USDA is discussing settlement with HSUS and the fact that they have ordered a re-evaluation of the value of the trademark causes concern that USDA is not vigorously defending the secretary’s previous decision to approve the sales contract and that they are subjecting the contract and marketing decisions to the whims of litigants and courts,” NPB said in a statement.
The full North Carolina advisement, introduced as “2016 Advisement – Industry Relations 1,” reads:
“Petition of Secretary Vilsack to preserve and defend National Pork Board statutory authority and independence
“Whereas The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) has filed a federal lawsuit against USDA contesting contractual agreements between the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council; and, whereas the outcome sought by HSUS would damage the ability of the National Pork Board to exercise its judgment in marketing free from judicial and third-party review; therefore, be it resolved that the delegates of the National Pork Board, appointed by the U.S. secretary of agriculture, do petition him to mount a strong and vigorous defense of the department’s past approval of National Pork Board contracts, employing all possible legal tactics to preserve the authority and independence of the National Pork Board to negotiate and enter into contracts related to its statutory responsibilities under the Pork Act & Order.”
According to Feedstuffs’ sister publication National Hog Farmer, during a legislative hearing of the House Agriculture Committee last week, Rep. David Rouzer (NC-7) questioned Vilsack about USDA's decision to enter into a settlement with HSUS rather than exhaust any of the natural defenses the agency would normally pursue. In response, Vilsack said, “It was a decision made in concert with the industry. The industry has been involved in the discussion.”
However, NPPC and NPB leadership both confirmed at the pork forum that the U.S. pork industry never agreed to a settlement and, in fact, said NPPC and NPB were not allowed to participate in the negotiation with HSUS at all.