Larry Ginter is a p ork producer from Rhodes, Iowa. He is a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a member group of the Campaign for Family Farms.

Q What are the main issues that most concern you about the National Pork Checkoff Program?

A The mandatory pork checkoff is undemocratic, unaccountable and does not benefit independent producers. Since the checkoff became mandatory in 1986, hog farmers have been forced to pay more than $500 million into the program. Here’s what we have gotten:

Two out of every three hog farmers have gone out of business (250,000 hog farmers total).

Hog prices hit historic lows.

Hog farmers share of the retail dollar has plummeted from 46 cents to less than 30 cents.

The National Pork Producers Council has added a packer representative to its board of directors.

NPPC has repeatedly thrown its weight and our checkoff dollars behind the corporate takeover of the hog industry:

In 1995, NPPC worked with the largest corporate hog producers to develop legislative and media strategies for the hog industry.

In 1996 and 1997, NPPC spent nearly $12 million in checkoff funds on projects designed to promote vertical integration in the hog industry and to take the stink out of large volumes of liquid hog manure.

In October 1998, just before hog prices dropped to 8 cents, NPPC’s executive director Al Tank told producers to “expand and seize market share.” Tank was talking to the corporate producers, not me and my neighbors.

This spring, at Pork Forum in Kansas City, NPPC passed a resolution supporting packer ownership of livestock. Motions to limit or prohibit packer ownership, a position supported by independent producers, were not considered.

The vote to end the mandatory pork checkoff is an opportunity for independent producers to hold NPPC accountable for misusing our checkoff dollars and take back the right to decide what we do with our money.

Q What should a checkoff program accomplish?

A It needs to be a voluntary, point-of-sale program that is accountable to independent producers. It must raise the price that we receive for our hogs; not line the pockets of packers and retailers.

Q What triggered the movement for a referendum?

A Every aspect of the mandatory pork checkoff was working against us. NPPC was using our checkoff dollars to fight us on every issue from enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act to mandatory price reporting. With hog farmers going out of business, prices plummeting and corporations attempting to take over the hog industry, independent producers took the initiative to reclaim the pork industry.

Q How much have you spent or plan to spend on the anti-checkoff campaign?

A We plan to spend $70,000 to $80,000 to win this vote. This is only about 2 percent of the $4 million in non-checkoff funds that NPPC says it could spend to keep the checkoff tax (March 6, 2000 Feedstuffs). This is a classic case of people vs. corporate greed and huge sums of money.

Q What alternatives do you propose?

A Farmers are the best people to decide where our hard-earned money goes. We support a voluntary, point-of-sale checkoff that is accountable and puts money into our pockets. Giving independent producers a chance to decide how much and who to give their checkoff dollars will give us a say in how our money is spent and keep the industry accountable to our needs.

Q What happens if the vote upholds the National Checkoff Program?

A We will continue to fight NPPC’s factory farm policies and hold it accountable to independent hog producers

Q What is your final take-home message to producers?

A It’s time to vote to end the mandatory pork checkoff tax. It’s undemocratic, unaccountable and doesn’t put money into our pockets.

The bottom line is that the mandatory pork checkoff has failed. It was originally intended to increase producer profitability, but it hasn’t. Instead, our share of the retail dollar has plummeted and our margins have become paper thin. The only ones who have benefited from it are meat packers, retailers and highly paid National Pork Board and NPPC executives.

The mandatory pork checkoff has got to go.