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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge OKs Pork Council Spending on Dead Slogan

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge dismissed claims agricultural regulators improperly shelled out $60 million in $3 million annual increments to the pork industry to buy the dead advertising slogan, "Pork, The Other White Meat."

The Humane Society sued U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last year, claiming the annual payments made by the National Pork Board for the slogan have been used to undermine the Humane Society's advocacy of more humane treatment of pigs and other animals.

"The Court will grant defendant's motion because plaintiffs have failed to allege that they have constitutional standing to bring this suit," ruled U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson.

According to the Humane Society and Judge Jackson's ruling, Secretary Vilsack approved a plan that 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."

The Humane Society says the 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 the purposes of influencing legislation and government policy," the group states in its complaint.

In order to strengthen the pork industry in 1985, Congress passed the Pork Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act, a law that requires pork producers to pay the NPB assessments used to finance "plans and projects, paying administrative expenses, and creating a reserve for the pork checkoff program."

The USDA approved the board's $60 million licensing purchase - $3 million annually for 20 years - of the "Pork, The Other White Meat" (PTOWM) slogan in 2006.

In 2011, the NPD officially changed its pork marketing slogan to "Pork: Be Inspired" but continued shelling out $3 million annually for the PTOWM slogan no longer in use.

"The $3 million annual PTOWM 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 argued in its complaint. "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."

The Humane Society says the pork industry is spending that money on lobbying, which is prohibited under the 1985 law, actively campaigning 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, and lobbying against the Society's efforts 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 joined the Humane Society as a plaintiff in the case, arguing his checkoff assessments are being misused. The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is the other plaintiff in the case.

While federal law prohibits the NPB from using checkoff money for lobbying, Judge Jackson said the plaintiffs can't tell it how to spend their money.

"The Humane Society and the ICCI do not have a stake in how the Board spends the checkoff funds, and there has been no showing that Mr. Dillenburg or the individual members of the associations have suffered an injury in fact that was caused by the Secretary's actions and can be redressed by this lawsuit," the judge writes.

The judge dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because of a lack of constitutional standing.

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