The House Agriculture Appropriations Committee approved $74 billion for food and agriculture programs Wednesday. While avoiding a fight on price supports for milk, the committee approved an amendment aimed at agricultural checkoffs, particularly the pork checkoff program.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, introduced an amendment designed to block USDA from implementing a court settlement with pork producers, allowing the national checkoff program to continue.

The Kaptur amendment states: “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to maintain, modify or implement any assessment against agricultural producers as part of a commodity promotion, research and consumer information order, known as a checkoff program, that has not been approved by the affected producers in accordance with the statutory requirements applicable to the order.”

In response, the National Pork Producers Council contends the amendment “represents politics intruding on the pork checkoff program – again.” The pork checkoff is operating under the settlement agreement reached Feb. 28 between USDA and pork producers. In that agreement, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman set aside the Jan. 11 announcement that the pork checkoff would end. As a result, the National Pork Producers Council is ending its general contractor relationship with the National Pork Board for managing checkoff-funded programs.

“It’s unfortunate given the facts that surround the petition process, referendum and settlement agreement,” says Barb Determan, NPPC producer president. “As Rep. Kaptur is aware, an insufficient number of valid signatures on the petition were collected to trigger a pork checkoff referendum. USDA reported that fact in January 2000. Also, the vote itself was flawed and filled with irregularities. For these reasons, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order to keep the pork checkoff in place.”

Kaptur’s amendment is drawing strong support from checkoff opponents, such as the Campaign for Family Farms. These groups contend the vote was legal and are petitioning the Bush administration to reverse Secretary Veneman’s decision.