Appellate court reverses previous dismissal of HSUS case against NPPC

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2015 - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is breathing new life into a previously dismissed lawsuit alleging pork checkoff funds were indirectly used to benefit the lobbying efforts of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

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Today's ruling reverses an earlier court's dismissal of a lawsuit brought by an Iowa pork producer along with the Humane Society of the United States and the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement in 2012 and allows it to potentially be reconsidered.

The groups alleged that the National Pork Board used the purchase of four trademarks associated with the “Pork: The Other White Meat” advertising campaign to funnel $60 million in checkoff funds to NPPC, the chief trade association of the U.S. pork industry.

The plaintiffs sued Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack under the Administrative Procedure Act, seeking an order to stop the Pork Board's further payments to the Council and directing the Secretary to “claw back” what payments he could from the deal. But a district court dismissed the plaintiffs' suit for lack of standing.

In court documents, the plaintiffs of the case claim the Pork Board “did not buy the slogan (from NPPC) for its value as a marketing tool.” Rather, they say the purchase - to be doled out in $3 million increments for the next 20 years - was used “as a means to cut a sweetheart deal with (NPPC) to keep (NPPC) in business and support its lobbying efforts.” They say the board “overpaid for the slogan” and that the Pork Board's shift to the “Pork: Be Inspired” campaign “makes the initial slogan all but worthless.”

U.S. pork producers and importers pay $0.40 per $100 of value when pigs are sold and when pigs or pork products are brought into the U.S. to fund the checkoff. It is a violation of the federal orders that established checkoffs to use funds for lobbying interests.

In a blog post, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle called the ruling “a potentially enormous win for animal welfare groups, small farmers, and environmentalists - since they've all felt the wrath of the NPPC's intense lobbying efforts.”

NPPC and USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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