November 28, 2012
Pork Industry Faces Legal Complaint Over Unlawful Checkoff Lobbying
The Humane Society of the United States filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General seeking an investigation into the National Pork Board’s potential use of federal checkoff dollars to support the National Pork Producers Council’s lobbying efforts. The complaint comes as NPPC is holding its annual Pork Action Group meeting in Marco Island, Fla., a meeting that records indicate has been annually supported in part with Pork Board funds and participation.
The Pork Board, which collects funds from pork producers through the legally mandated Pork Checkoff program, is prohibited by federal law from spending these funds to influence legislation or government policy. Nevertheless, records obtained by The HSUS reveal annual purchase orders from the Pork Board to sponsor and participate in NPPC Alliance program activities. The Alliance program is described by NPPC as dedicated exclusively to lobbying and other legislative efforts.
“The National Pork Producers Council lobbies for large factory farms at the expense of family farms and animal welfare and appears to be using federal checkoff dollars to advance its extreme agenda,” says says Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS. “If checkoff funds have been illegally diverted to lobbying, USDA should take swift action to ensure America’s pig farmers are not footing the bill for the pork industry’s high-priced lobbyists.”
The council’s website publicly identifies the Pork Board as an Alliance Partner—a membership status that requires $20,000 in annual dues. Alliance program funds are then used to support NPPC’s extensive lobbying activities.
NPPC recently used its lobbying dollars to try to block the egg industry’s efforts to establish a uniform, nationwide set of standards to improve the treatment of egg-laying hens. On that issue, the group claims opposition to national animal welfare standards, despite having recently helped strike down a California state law to protect “downer” pigs using arguments that the national standard preempted the state law.
The USDA Office of the Inspector General has previously warned the Pork Board that it “should maintain an arm’s-length business relationship with the NPPC,” so as not to compromise the integrity of the Pork Checkoff program.
By publicly listing the Pork Board among its high-donor Alliance Partners, NPPC falsely suggests industry-wide endorsement of its legislative policies. While the Pork Board and its checkoff dollars represent 100 percent of the country’s pork producers, the council represents a much smaller subset of producers who may not share the same legislative goals of all producers. As OIG has noted, “Some producers are, in fact, opposed to the NPPC itself.”
This complaint follows a separate lawsuit over checkoff payments to purchase the “Pork: The Other White Meat” slogan. That lawsuit is pending and unrelated to the Alliance program payments at issue here.
Over the last 30 years, the number of U.S. pork producers has declined from 700,000 to fewer than 70,000, and the NPPC has continued to support policies which harm animals, favor the industrial producers and undermine family farmers.
- Among other inhumane practices, NPPC defends the extreme confinement of breeding pigs in tiny gestation crates.
- In recent months, a number of major restaurant chains and grocers—including McDonald’s, Burger King, Costco, Denny’s, Safeway, Kroger, Cracker Barrel, and Sonic—have pledged to eliminate pork from gestation crates from their supply chains.
- Major pork producers such as Smithfield and Hormel have pledged to stop using gestation crates at their company-owned farms by 2017, and Cargill is already 50 percent crate-free.
- Noted animal welfare advisor, Temple Grandin, Ph.D., has stated that gestation crates “are a real problem” and “have to go.”
- Nine states and the European Union have passed laws to phase out gestation crates. Extensive scientific research confirms that confining sows in gestation crates is detrimental to animal welfare.
- NPPC is at odds with pork consumers and even many pork producers by obstinately refusing to support this move toward more humane treatment of pigs.
Media contact: Anna West, 240-751-2669, firstname.lastname@example.org