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September 24, 2012

Lawsuit Challenges $60 Million Federal Payout for “The Other White Meat” Slogan

The HSUS and Pig Farmers Allege Iconic Slogan was Sold Unlawfully to Fund Anti-Animal Welfare Lobbying Campaigns

The Humane Society of the United States—along with an independent pig farmer and on behalf of its pig farmer members—filed a lawsuit in federal district court, charging that the National Pork Board struck an unlawful backroom deal with a D.C. lobbying organization for the purchase of the iconic “Pork: The Other White Meat” slogan. The deal allows $60 million in pork producers’ money collected for marketing and promotion purposes to be diverted into industry lobbying efforts aimed at harming animal welfare and small farmers.

“The National Pork Producers Council has a failed track record when it comes to representing family farmers and preventing animal cruelty,” said Joe Maxwell, director of rural development and outreach at The HSUS and a Missouri pig farmer. “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.”

The National Pork Board—a quasi-governmental entity receiving mandatory fees, called “checkoffs,” from independent pork producers—purchased the slogan from its long-time industry ally, the National Pork Producers Council in 2006.

Through months of research, The HSUS uncovered glaring legal violations, conflicts of interest, and an exorbitantly over-inflated $60 million price tag associated with the deal. Much of the extraordinarily inflated value of the slogan resulted from 20 years of promotional campaigns funded entirely with pork producers’ own checkoff funds: roughly half a billion dollars. In essence, NPPC charged pork producers twice: once to make The Other White Meat successful, and again to pay for the value of that success.

Launched in 1987, “The Other White Meat” was developed as the primary promotional message of the National Pork Board’s checkoff program. According to federal law, every U.S. pork producer must pay into the checkoff program, but those funds can only be used for strictly limited promotional and research purposes, and may not be used for lobbying. The U.S. Department of Agriculture supervises the checkoff program and has authority to reject expenditures that are not in compliance with federal laws or regulations.

Records suggest that industry leaders were fully aware of the impropriety of the sale and deliberately worked to prevent public knowledge of it. Then-National Pork Board CEO Steve Murphy wrote in 2006, for example, that his reason for not accepting written appraisals for the sale was to keep that information “sealed” and out of the “public domain.”

The purchase price, to be paid by the National Pork Board to the National Pork Producers Council in 20 annual installments of $3 million each, has been reported by NPPC as representing nearly one-third of its annual budgeted revenue. These payments continue, despite the fact that the slogan has been discontinued and replaced with a new one by the National Pork Board, which has the power to cancel the payments.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to cancel the unlawful purchase and ensure that the remaining balance—tens of millions of dollars—will benefit the producers who fund the checkoff instead of NPPC’s anti-animal, anti-farmer lobbying agenda. The complaint does not challenge the constitutionality of the checkoff program but alleges a gross misuse of a massive amount of federally-compelled check-off payments funneled into lobbying purposes.

Facts:

  • The NPPC lobbies against animal welfare legislation, even when it doesn’t affect the pork industry. For example, NPPC is currently lobbying against the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, H.R. 3798/S. 3239, which would improve the treatment of egg-laying hens and provide a stable and secure future for U.S. egg farmers. NPPC opposes the bill even though it is backed by egg farmers and egg industry groups. 

  • The NPPC advocates for immobilizing breeding pigs in tiny cages essentially for years on end, and it lobbies against laws that would simply allow pigs to turn around. The use of gestation crates has been banned in nine U.S. states, is being phased out by major pork producers and food companies, and condemned by renowned experts like Temple Grandin, Ph.D. 

Media contact: Anna West, 301-258-1518, awest@humanesociety.org

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