WASHINGTON, April 20, 2016 – USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service announced today that the National Pork Board (NPB) can continue to pay $3 million in annual payments to the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) for the value of four trademarks.
The Humane Society of the United States sued in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2012, alleging that AMS unlawfully approved the Pork Board's agreement and payments to the NPPC of $60 million over 20 years for its “Pork: The Other White Meat” slogan. HSUS alleged that the deal, which started in 2006, allowed money collected for marketing and promotion purposes “to be diverted into industry lobbying efforts aimed at harming animal welfare and small farmers.”
In December 2015, HSUS and USDA entered into a stipulation agreement, whereby HSUS dismissed parts of its complaint that sought recovery of funds already paid to NPPC under the agreements. At the same time, USDA agreed to further review of the charges.
As part of its review in this case, AMS directed the Pork Board to contract for an independent expert to provide a valuation of the current value of the trademarks.
The financial advisory firm Stout Risius Ross (SRR) conducted the valuation and accepted input from both HSUS and NPPC, ultimately finding that the value of the trademarks was worth more than the original purchase price and the remaining principal balance, according to AMS. The firm concluded that, as of Jan. 1 2016, the trademarks were worth $113 million and $132 million.
HSUS vowed to continue its legal challenge.
“We will continue the legal challenge. If the government won’t do the right thing and stop these funds from being unlawfully funneled to a lobbying group to fuel activities harmful to family farmers and animal welfare, then we’ll seek to protect them in court,” HSUS special counsel Matthew Penzer told Agri-Pulse in a statement.
In recent months, rumors circulated that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack might settle with HSUS rather than continue to fight the case. That prompted the Pork Board’s delegate body in March to formally urge him to exhaust his legal options rather than settling.
In a separate action today, USDA’s general counsel sent a letter to the Pork Board’s chief operating officer regarding the Pork Board’s letter urging the Secretary to mount a vigorous defense in the case.
USDA’s general counsel informed the Board that the advisement, and the letter forwarding it, violated the Pork Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Order and AMS guidelines forbidding research and promotion boards from using mandatory assessment funds to engage in lobbying for governmental action, and was in direct contradiction to counsel provided by AMS during the delegate body meeting.
The general counsel directed that within 30 days, the Board must account for and reimburse all pork checkoff funds related to the delegate body action, and suggested that the COO, Pork Board officers, and any other critical staff attend a remedial training on the proper use of pork checkoff funds, according to AMS.
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