Following a lawsuit last summer against the National Pork Producers Council regarding pork facility emissions, as well as its campaign to phase out gestation stalls, the Humane Society of the United States recently filed a lawsuit against the National Pork Board. The suit alleges the NPB made an illegal deal with the NPPC, former facilitators of checkoff funds, to buy "The Other White Meat" slogan in 2006.
In the suit, HSUS claims the purchase agreement violates the Pork Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act of 1985 - known informally as the Pork Act. The suit argues the slogan's value was created with pork producer funds from checkoff payments, allowing the funds to be used "for purposes of influencing legislation and government policy."
After the NPPC created the slogan as checkoff facilitator in 2001, NPB leased the slogan for $1 a year from 2004 to 2006, when it agreed to buy the slogan and related intellectual property for $60 million at $3 million annually. HSUS argues the transaction "charged pork producers twice: once to make The Other White Meat successful, and again to pay for the value of that success."
The lawsuit does not challenge the constitutionality of the checkoff, but cancellation of payments for the slogan. HSUS says it wants to ensure 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."
HSUS director of rural development and outreach Joe Maxwell says 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," he says.
Lawsuit legal merits
The National Pork Board is skeptical about the legal merit of the lawsuit. "I find it unusual that HSUS is filing suit now over a decision that was made and approved more than six years ago," says NPB CEO Chris Novak. He says the buy was a legitimate purchase of a valuable business asset, and challenges the legitimacy of HSUS's argument.
"'The Other White Meat' is an incredibly valuable asset, which is why the board in 2006 took steps to assure it would always be owned by pork producers," Novak says. "In 2000, Northwestern University conducted a study that determined that The Other White Meat was one of the five most recognizable taglines in contemporary advertising. So it was important to producers that it be protected."
NPPC CEO Neil Dierks says the group is reviewing the complaint, but it appears to lack legal merit, and to be an attempt to hurt animal agriculture altogether and take away consumer choices.
"What does merit concern is the fact that HSUS preys on the emotions of domestic pet owners with deceptive advertising and fundraising," he says. "It raises money on images of abused puppies without homes, yet virtually none of those funds go to local shelters. Instead those dollars go toward multimillion dollar campaigns to attack family farmers and American meat production."
Dierks says the lawsuit, along with HSUS's previous actions, is another "bullying tactic" to attempt to force NPPC to abandon its position on the farmer's right to choose how pork is produced. "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," Dierks says. "All of the allegations lack merit."
- NPPC and NPB contributed to this report