WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2012 - The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and an Iowa pork producer filed a lawsuit today in federal district court, charging the National Pork Board with striking “an unlawful backroom deal” with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) for the purchase of the “Pork: The Other White Meat” slogan.

In a release issued today, the HSUS said it “uncovered glaring legal violations, conflicts of interest, and an exorbitantly over-inflated $60 million price tag associated with the deal,” which the animal rights organization claims were originally funded by checkoff funds. They seek to stop the Pork Board from making further payments to NPPC.

The complaint, filed by HSUS and Iowa farmer Harvey Dillenburg in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, names U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department oversees federal checkoff programs, as the defendant. U.S. pork producers invest $0.40 for each $100 value of hogs sold into the checkoff, while importers of pork products contribute a like amount, based on a formula.

National Pork Board Chief Executive Officer Chris Novak said the lawsuit challenges the “legitimate purchase of a valuable business asset” and noted that it was "unusual that HSUS is filing suit now over a decision that was made and approved more than six years ago.”

The Pork Board purchased the trademark in 2006 from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), which created the trademark prior to the formation of the National Pork Board in 1986. The National Pork Board subsequently assumed all marketing responsibilities for pork. The sale price, agreed to by both boards and approved by the secretary of agriculture, was $35 million. NPPC agreed to finance the payments over 20 years, making the payment from the National Pork Board $3 million annually, according to NPB officials.

NPPC CEO Neil Dierks said his organization is reviewing the HSUS complaint,” but it appears there is no legal merit to this claim,” and described it “the latest bullying tactic by HSUS.”

“Over the past few months, HSUS has threatened NPPC with a Federal Trade Commission complaint; filed notice of its intent to sue a number of hog operations over alleged emissions reporting violations; and charged that NPPC was responsible for the deaths of hogs in barn fires because the organization asked to give input on national fire standards for agricultural facilities. All of the allegations lack merit.”

The NPPC, along with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and other farm groups, actively lobby against several of the issues that HSUS is trying to get approved in Congress. For example, NPPC is currently lobbying against the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, H.R. 3798/S. 3239, which would establish specific national standards for egg-laying hens.

This most recent checkoff-related lawsuit was filed a little over one month after a somewhat similar case was filed by the Organization of Competitive Markets (OCM) against USDA and the beef checkoff board. The suit’s objective is to force USDA and its beef board from giving any further funds to the NCBA. 

At the time the lawsuit was introduced, OCM President Fred Stokes told members that his group had been briefed by HSUS in Washington and characterized HSUS as “wanting to be a party” to the lawsuit. He claimed that “every cowboy out there owes a big debt of gratitude to HSUS.” However, HSUS is not officially part of that lawsuit.


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