Pork producers cleared the first hurdle in their legal battle to overturn USDA's decision to terminate the pork checkoff. In federal court in Michigan, a judge granted a temporary restraining order preserving the status quo and enjoining the termination of the pork checkoff program until a full and fair hearing has occurred.

"Although we are a long way from preserving the pork checkoff on behalf of all independent pork producers, this is a step in the right direction," said Pete Blauwiekel, a Fowler, Mich., pork producer. "Pork producers have been wronged by USDA's unauthorized decision to terminate the checkoff. Today's ruling will allow the truth to come to light about how USDA conducted the
referendum and how the votes were interpreted," added Blauwiekel, a plaintiff in the case.

A group of pork producers including independent producers, the Michigan Pork Producers Association and the National Pork Producers Council, filed suit on Jan. 12, 2001. With the announcement, a date of Feb. 2, 2001, has been set for the court to hold a preliminary injunction hearing. The lawsuit contends that USDA has acted unlawfully in holding a binding referendum despite having no legal authority to do so. Even if a referendum could be held, USDA ran the referendum in a manner that was filled with irregularities, that failed to apply consistent standards or to count all lawfully cast ballots.

The temporary restraining order entered today states: "Allowing the Secretary to violate the Pork Act by usurping more authority than he was given by Congress does not serve the public. Likewise, allowing the Secretary to terminate a program relied on by many, when the process used to arrive at termination is allegedly flawed, is not in the public interest. The entire process leading to the termination of the Pork Checkoff Program was arguably flawed. It is in the public's interest that a court examine the proceedings and their result."

NPPC President Craig Jarolimek, a Forest River, N.D., pork producer, said: "As producers became aware of irregularities and inconsistencies in the voting process, the National Pork Producers Council brought these issues to USDA's attention. We feel strongly that neither the Office of the Inspector General nor USDA took these concerns seriously or even investigated the situation thoroughly. That is the basis for our legal challenge. Pork producers should be outraged at such mismanagement of the referendum and intervention into the pork checkoff by the government."

At the request of pork producers, the Pork Promotion Research and Consumer Information Act became law in 1985. The pork checkoff funded research, promotion and education programs designed to build a future and create opportunities for pork producers. In September, pork producers had the opportunity to vote on the future of the 14-year pork checkoff program. Jan. 11, 2001, USDA announced plans to terminate the pork checkoff program.

Approximately $54 million was collected through the pork checkoff in 2000. As required by the Pork Act and Order, 20% of money is returned to state pork associations for investment in state-directed promotion, consumer education and research programs.

National Pork Producers Council