Pork Producers protest USDA choice for checkoff board

By Agri-Pulse Staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, July 2 – In a letter sent to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Thursday, the National Pork Producers Council said it is puzzled and disappointed by the secretary’s recent appointments to the National Pork Board. The National Pork Board sent a separate letter to Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Rayne Pegg, also expressing concerns.
Historically the candidates eligible for service on the National Pork Board are ranked in priority order by Pork Act delegates at the annual National Pork Industry Forum, and traditionally the secretary has respected the will of the delegates. This is the first time in more than 20 years that the secretary not supported the Delegates’ ranking.

The National Pork Board, with which NPPC works closely, administers the federal checkoff program for the U.S. pork industry. The program was set up by Congress through the Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act of 1985, or Pork Act. The National Pork Board’s 15-member board, which is responsible for making checkoff funding and program decisions, is chosen by the Secretary of Agriculture based on nominations received from the Pork Act delegate body, whose members also are appointed by the secretary. Vilsack in early June rejected two of the top five of eight candidates, including one from North Carolina-one of largest pork producing regions in the country, put forth by the Pork Act delegates. There were five vacancies to fill.
"There is a great deal of frustration that the Secretary's deicsion ignores the voice and role of the Program's pork producer stakeholders," pointed out the National Pork Board's CEO Chris Novak in a letter to Administrator Pegg that was obtained by Agri-Pulse. "Unfortunately, this action has undermined not only the role of the delegates, but has also eroded the faith and trust these delgates have placed with the checkoff as a trustee of their funds and interests."
Earlier this year, the Secretary sent a letter indicating his desire to include more diverse candidates on boards and committees. The Pork Board noted that regional and state diversity have been important criteria for pork producers. But they also asked the Department ot place a higher value on experience and leadership as two priority criteria when making board appointments.
“We recognize the efforts to ensure the Board reflects the vast diversity and dynamics of our industry,” said NPPC President Sam Carney in the letter to Vilsack, “but cannot understand how an entire region of the country can be overlooked, particularly since a candidate from the region was highly recommended by your own delegates.”

In the letter, NPPC pointed out that pork producers in North Carolina, the second largest pork producing state, contributed more than 10 percent of the checkoff funds in 2009. This is the first time in the history of the checkoff program that the Southeastern region of the U.S. has not been represented.

NPPC said it would categorize Vilsack’s decision as “puzzling and disappointing to pork producers” and asked the secretary to share his perspective on the matter.
Asked about the selection process, a USDA spokesperson said: "The Secretary reviews, selects and appoints producers from the list of candidates submitted by the National Pork Board Delegate Body.  If a producer was not appointed from the list provided to the Secretary this year, that person can be recommended by the Delegate Body the following year for consideration."

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