Ratcheting up its pressure on the U.S. pork sector, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a lawsuit on Monday against USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. HSUS is specifically targeting the transfer of and payment for the advertising slogan “Pork. The Other White Meat” from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) to the National Pork Board (NPB) as an “unlawful” act.
NPPC developed the slogan in 1987, and while it was used in checkoff-funded advertising programs, NPPC held the rights to it. In 2006, NPB agreed to purchase the iconic slogan from NPPC for $3 million annually for 20 years or a total of $60 million.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the plaintiffs in the suit include HSUS and Harvey Dillenburg, a pork producer in Adair County Iowa. The suit claims the deal between the two groups allows mandatory pork checkoff dollars to “be diverted into industry lobbying efforts aimed at harming animal welfare and small farmers.” Secretary Vilsack is involved because under the legislative pork checkoff program (aka the Pork Act) USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) approves all programs and funding allocations. USDA, in fact would have had to approve NPB’s purchase of the slogan.
Dillenburg reports that he has been paying and continues to pay into the National Pork Checkoff, and that he is not a member of NPPC. HSUS argues that NPPC’s efforts are counter to Dillenberg’s interests. HSUS reports that it brings this court action on its own behalf and that of its members.
HSUS argues that, “NPPC has consistently expended significant funds to fight HSUS policy and legislative reforms related to humane practices in the care of farm animals.” As a result, the group contends, “[s]ince HSUS resources would otherwise be spent on advocacy, legislation, and education related to improving the treatment of pigs and other animals, Defendant’s unlawful conduct directly impedes Plaintiff’s activities, and causes a significant drain on its resources and time.”
Of course at issue is the on-going dispute over the use of gestation stalls. HSUS has been lobbying food companies to ban the housing practice from pork supply chains. To date, 30 have complied with deadlines ranging from 2017 to 2022. HSUS also cites NPPC’s efforts to work against federal housing standards for egg-laying hens orchestrated between HSUS and the United Egg Producers. NPPC argues that it sets a dangerous precedent for all of animal agriculture.