The Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit against the National Pork Board Monday, alleging that the board made an illegal deal with the National Pork Producers Council, former facilitators of Pork Checkoff funds, to buy "The Other White Meat" slogan in a 2006 agreement.
HSUS claims in the suit that the conditions of the purchase agreement violate the provisions of the Pork Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act of 1985, known informally as the Pork Act. HSUS' lawsuit said the value of the slogan was developed using pork producer funds generated through checkoff payments, and allows the funds to be used "for purposes of influencing legislation and government policy."
The NPPC commissioned the slogan during the group's tenure as a checkoff facilitator. NPPC then assumed a public policy outreach role in July, 2001, and relinquished checkoff control to the NPB. Following the NPPC transition, NPB leased the slogan for $1 per year until 2004, and eventually, the board agreed in 2006 to purchase the slogan and related intellectual property for $60 million, paid in annual sums of $3 million per year.
HSUS said the transaction "charged pork producers twice: once to make The Other White Meat successful, and again to pay for the value of that success."
Though the lawsuit doesn't challenge constitutionality of the checkoff itself, it does seek cancellation of the slogan payments. The group said it hopes to ensure that checkoff dollars "will benefit the producers who fund the checkoff instead of NPPC's anti-animal, anti-farmer lobbying agenda. The complaint. … alleges a gross misuse of a massive amount of federally-compelled check-off payments funneled into lobbying purposes."
Joe Maxwell, HSUS director of rural development and outreach, said the NPPC has a "failed track record" of representing family farmers.
"While we can't force NPPC to care about animals or family farmers, through this lawsuit we can work to stop our money from being unlawfully funneled straight to its lobbyists who work against us," Maxell said.
Despite the allegations of HSUS, the NPPC released a statement Monday in which they said the lawsuit was a "bullying tactic."
NPPC CEO Neil Dierks said the group is reviewing the complaint, but it appears there is no legal merit. He said the suit is an attempt to force NPPC to abandon its position on the farmer's right to choose appropriate production methods.
"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," Dierks said.
Dierks said what merits concern in this situation is that the HSUS raises money on images of abused animals to fund campaigns that attack family farmers and meat production.
The National Pork Board, too, was skeptical about the merits of the suit. NPB CEO Chris Novak said the purchase was a legitimate purchase of a valuable business asset.
And, like the National Pork Producers Council, Novak challenged the legitimacy of HSUS arguments.
"I find it unusual that HSUS is filing suit now over a decision that was made and approved more than six years ago," Novak said.