Even in Washington, where millions of dollars are disbursed to influence public policy, the schemes of the pork industry to divert public money to special interest lobbying efforts may be unequaled. Today in a case brought by The HSUS to stop the misuse of federal dollars to finance lobbying activities by the pork industry, a panel of judges from the D.C. federal Court of Appeals issued a ruling that threatens to choke off a $60 million revenue stream that should have never been channeled to fund the political activities of the pork industry’s chief lobbying organization, the National Pork Producers Council.
A little background is required to understand the pork industry’s self-dealing and the misuse of public money to influence the operations of the government.
Under federal law, farmers of certain commodities (including pork, beef, and eggs) are required to pay a percentage of their sales into a check-off fund. These funds are intended to be used to promote the sale of farm products, and the National Pork Board is the group created to be the custodian of the money. Years ago, the Pork Board launched the now widely known slogan called “Pork: The Other White Meat.” Similar programs for the cattle and egg industries we’ve all heard of are “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” and “The Incredible, Edible Egg.”
It’s bad enough that rank-and-file farmers are forced to pay “dues,” if you will, to the National Pork Board, even if they don’t want to participate (and many of them don’t). It’s bad enough that their own money is used against them, by promoting Big Ag at the expense of family farmers. And it’s bad enough the government is enabling the industry to spend tens of millions of dollars a year to promote their products (there are precious few similar programs to promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables).
But that’s not the worst of it.
Somehow, the National Pork Board handed over this “Pork: The Other White Meat” slogan to the National Pork Producers Council. Then, after the publicity campaign ran its course and they swapped in a new marketing slogan and campaign, in a case of self-dealing that boggles the mind, the NPPC sold the slogan back to the Pork Board for a staggering $60 million!
In short, over the next 20 years, the Pork Board would give the NPPC $3 million a year – which is as much as a third of all money that the NPPC gets to fund its daily operations.
Today’s court ruling threatens to pull the plug on this deal, and it’s a potentially enormous win for animal welfare groups, small farmers, and environmentalists – since they’ve all felt the wrath of the NPPC’s intense lobbying efforts.
Once the surcharge is collected, the money is entrusted to the federal government to be managed properly, and it was never intended to run day-to-day operations and lobbying campaigns of an extremist industry trade association that defends keeping pigs in lifelong inhumane confinement in small cages, making a mess of rural communities by filling open-air lagoons with extraordinary volumes of liquefied manure, resisting efforts to phase out its overuse of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes, and blocking action to limit its significant contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.
The ruling clears the way for a lawsuit filed by The HSUS, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and an independent pig farmer to halt the misdirection of millions in generic commodity promotion funding to the NPPC. The court explained: “The plaintiffs claim that the Board did not buy the slogan for its value as a marketing tool. They allege that the Board used the purchase of the slogan as a means to cut a sweetheart deal with the Council to keep the Council in business and support its lobbying efforts. They maintain that the Board overpaid for the slogan and that the Board’s shift to the Pork:Be Inspired campaign makes the initial slogan all but worthless.”
If we prevail in the end, we will not only have done a service for animals, family farmers, and rural residents, but we will have halted corruption and a sweetheart deal to Big Pork. This sort of misdirecting of resources should never have been tolerated, and The HSUS and others should not have had to sue to secure this outcome.
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