National pork checkoff funds cannot be used to address legislative, regulatory or public policy issues. Yet those issues are increasingly impacting U.S. pork producers’ businesses, and a producer poll ranks them as leading priorities.

That’s part of the reason why the major discussion coming out of the National Pork Board’s delegate body at last week’s Pork Forum, focused on recommending a reduction in the national pork checkoff rate. “The intent is to see the additional money go to the National Pork Producers Council,” says John Lader, a Wisconsin producer.

NPPC addresses legislative, regulatory and public policy issues for the U.S. pork industry, and is funded solely by voluntary contributions. Two years ago, NPB delegates advised USDA to reduce the national pork checkoff rate by 5 cents to 40 cents per $100 value per market hog sold in hopes that most producers would contribute the savings to NPPC. That has not happened. 

This year’s 161 delegates considered similar proposals, and after significant debate, chose a different route. Under the approved resolution, NPB will advise USDA to reduce the national pork checkoff rate by 5 cents per $100 value when NPPC’s Strategic Investment Program (formerly Producer Consent Program) contributions reach $4.5 million on an annualized basis. In 2003, NPPC collected $1.5 million in voluntary funds from producers.

“USDA has reviewed this and they believe this is doable,” says Craig Christensen, NPB president. “We would advise the action and USDA would approve the conditions.” That’s standard procedure with any pork checkoff issue.

Of course, all of this could be moot, depending on whether the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the national pork checkoff or any one of several commodity checkoff cases pending. Should the Supreme Court choose not to hear the pork checkoff (or a similar checkoff) case, the lower court’s ruling that the pork checkoff is unconstitutional based on First Amendment rights, would hold and the program would end.

Other resolutions that the NPB delegates addressed include:

- To participate in a coalition of agricultural organizations, allied industry, food processors and retailers to develop strategies for the future viability of the pork industry. The point of the coalition is to address activist issues such as animal rights, the environment and antibiotics.

- Make U.S. pork exports an increased priority by expanding the industry’s participation and involvement in the effort. Among those strategies, encourage states to become members of the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

It’s worth noting that the National Pork Board delegate body can only establish program priorities as outlined in the Pork Act, which include: research, education and promotion. In terms of business issues during their annual meeting, the delegates are limited to the following actions: nominating Pork Board members, setting the checkoff rate, and setting return-to-state funding rates.

The delegates nominated eight producers to fill five, three-year terms on the 15-member Pork Board. They include: Danita Rodibaugh, Indiana; John Adams, North Carolina; G. Steven Weaver, California; Tim Bierman, Iowa; Bruce Samson, Montana; Ron Schoo, Minnesota; Alden Zulke, Nebraska; and Mike Salter, Wisconsin. This list will go to USDA Secretary Ann Veneman for final appointment, which will come sometime this summer. The Pork Board will elect its officers following those appointments.

Porkmag.com will present additional information from Pork Forum throughout this week. You also can access information at NPB’s Web site www.porkboard.org. On the left side of the home page, select “Pork Forum” from the “Pork Production” menu.