WASHINGTON (CN) - Agricultural regulators improperly let the pork industry spend $60 million to buy the dead advertising slogan, "Pork, The Other White Meat," activists claims in federal court.
The approved plan requires the National Pork Board, "a quasi-governmental entity created as a result of Congress' passage of the Pork Act, to pay the National Pork Producers Council annual payments of $3 million for two decades, according to the complaint.
The Humane Society of the United States says that the National Pork Producers Council uses this extravagant funding to lobby against it.
"These unlawful expenditures are not only arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and/or contrary to law within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act, they also allow the board and the NPPC to evade federal restrictions against the use of pork checkoff dollars for purposes of influencing legislation and government policy," the group claims.
The board allegedly makes its payments with checkoff funds, a tax levied against food producers to fund generic marketing campaigns.
"The $3 million annual PTOWM [Pork, The Other White Meat] payment from the board constitutes a major source of NPPC's annual revenue, which furthers its lobbying and other efforts to fight HSUS' advocacy for humane care for farm animals," the Humane Society says. "NPPC has reported as much as 32 percent of its annual budgeted revenue is from the sale. HSUS must expend additional resources to counter the improper actions of the Board and NPPC arising from the unlawful checkoff expenditures at issue."
But the Pork Act of 1985 "expressly prohibits the expenditure of checkoff funds on lobbying or other activities designed to influence government policy," the lawsuit states.
The Humane Society claims its legislative fight against animal cruelty is the target of pork lobby spending, even though such legislation involves several produce industry. Pork lobbyists actively campaigned to block the passage of the Egg Products Inspection Act, a bill that would provide humane improvements in the living conditions for the nation's egg-laying hens, according to the complaint.
"HSUS has dedicated significant human and financial resources to the drafting, promotion, and lobbying of Congress for its passage," it says. "The HSUS continues to dedicate such resources in an effort to counteract repeated activity aimed at preventing passage of the bill, led in large part by NPPC. Despite the broad support for the bill among egg producers and animal protection groups - and despite its application strictly to the confinement conditions of the country's egg-laying hens - NPPC has expended great effort and resources to block its support," states the complaint.
Both the National Pork Board and the lobbying group have allegedly opposed the group's work to eliminate gestation crates where sows are isolated for their four-month pregnancies. The cages are so small that the sows can't turn around, the group says.
Pork farmer Harvey Dillenburg is also a plaintiff in the case. He says he continues to pay his checkoff assessments pursuant to the Pork Act, but his "interests are impacted by misuse of checkoff funds, as such misuse diminishes the resources available for promotions or other legitimate programs in support of the nation's pork industry."
After the Pork Board and council struck their $60 million deal in 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allegedly authorized the plan.
Last year, the Pork Board announced a new marketing campaign built around a new slogan: "Pork: Be Inspired." The Humane Society says this marked the end of the "Pork, The Other White Meat."
"Despite the public declaration of an entirely new brand identity for pork and the end of the PTOWM being featured in advertising campaigns, the board did not exercise the early termination clause of the purchase agreement that would have excused it from all but one of the remaining fourteen payments of three million checkoff dollars," the Humane Society says.
The Humane Society wants the court to nix the buy-out of the ad campaign and the USDA's continued authorization of $3 million payments as illegal. It wants the court to set aside the unlawful approvals and expenditures of checkoff funds and have the money be recouped by the government.
The Humane Society is represented by Matthew Penzer.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.