April 16, 2013
Front Lines: Follow the Money
Pork producers are being forced to underwrite lobbyists trying to block animal welfare reforms
by Karen E. Lange
The decisions didn’t make sense.
After spending around $500 million on advertising that featured “Pork, the other white meat,” and after transforming that slogan into a valuable asset, the National Pork Board chose to pay for those words a second time—promising $60 million over 20 years to a lobbying group called the National Pork Producers Council. The stated purpose was to keep someone else from using the slogan. But who besides the pork board would want it?
The pork board’s actions then grew stranger still. Upon retiring the “other white meat” slogan in favor of a new one, the board failed to exercise a termination clause, electing to continue making annual $3 million payments to buy the rights to words it was no longer using.
The only possible explanation, attorneys with The HSUS’s Animal Protection Litigation section concluded, was that the purpose of the payments wasn’t to purchase the slogan at all; it was to disguise the illegal use of producers’ money.
A 1985 federal law created the pork board to promote pork consumption, requiring producers to pay it 40 cents of each $100 of pork sold. The law stipulates that “checkoff” money should be used only for promoting and marketing, not lobbying. But under the suspect arrangements that caught The HSUS’s attention, the National Pork Producers Council has reported getting as much as a third of its budget from checkoff money spent on the “other white meat” slogan. The money helps fund the council’s policy work on behalf of corporate agriculture and factory farms, much of it directed against HSUS-backed reforms to end extreme confinement, including state-level bans on pig gestation crates and an agreement with the United Egg Producers to end the use of barren battery cages. Many of the pig farmers paying into the checkoff program actually support these reforms.
A lawsuit filed by The HSUS last fall against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which supervises the checkoff program, asks the court to end the unlawful payments. “From a business standpoint, there’s no way to justify this,” says HSUS attorney Matt Penzer. “It takes producers’ money and diverts that toward policy issues.”
The lawsuit is one in a series of challenges to what The HSUS and other big ag critics see as misuse of pork—and beef—checkoff money. The HSUS has also filed a complaint with the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General about $20,000 the pork board gave the council to become a National Pork Producers Council Alliance Partner.
In August, with the help of HSUS attorneys, Mike Callicrate of Ranch Foods Direct brought a lawsuit charging that the Cattlemen’s Beef Board had steered $200 million in the $1-per-head checkoff money it collects to a lobbying group called the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The checkoff money underwrites nearly two-thirds of that group’s budget.
“We have lost 42 percent of our cattle producers in this country. We lose [another] 1,000 ranches a month,” says Callicrate, who has long fought against factory farming’s takeover of the industry. “They are using our [own] money against us.”