Over the past 24 months, U.S. pork producers have lost an average of nearly $23 on each hog marketed and since September 2007, the industry has lost more than $5.3 billion. With the U.S. pork industry in the midst of the most severe economic crisis in its history, it is urgent for stakeholders to take action.

There’s no doubt that elected officials receive countless messages from agriculture detractors including Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other anti-ag components intent on proposing legislation detrimental to the pork industry. Each day it seems there is a new assault on animal agriculture. To assure that legislators get an accurate picture of pork production and those issues that affect it, action is needed now.

While pork producers may not have a burning desire to communicate with elected officials or object officially to proposed legislation that would negatively impact agriculture, it is becoming increasingly important that they do just that. With fewer people involved in agriculture, specifically modern pork production, involvement by pork producers in communicating with elected leaders is urgently needed.

To build, maintain and coordinate pork industry volunteers in defending against unfavorable public policy at both the state and national level, the National Pork Producers Council sponsors the Legislative Education Action Development Resource, or LEADR program. The LEADR program is a grassroots coalition of pork producers, growers, allied industry, veterinarians and nutritionists who have an active interest in defending their livelihood.

To learn or polish the skills needed to be a LEADR representative, NPPC customizes training programs for participants to become an integral part of an effective grassroots network. The following questions were posed to Bryan Humphreys, LEADR director of grassroots operations for NPPC.

Q: What are the typical functions of a LEADR program participant?

Humphreys: When legislation is proposed that could be damaging to pork industry stakeholders, NPPC will issue LEADR members a Call-to-Action asking for their help educating legislators on how the legislation will affect their constituency. In this call-to action will be all the pertinent information to effectively communicate with their elected officials.

Once members have reviewed the information provided by NPPC, they will use the training they received to communicate with their elected officials. Through our training, we educate LEADR members on the most effective ways of communicating with legislators and work with them to strengthen and perfect their communication.

Why is LEADR important? What’s in it for the producer?

Humphreys: All too often we get so wrapped up in raising our pigs, selling our products, and spending time with family, that we neglect contacting our elected representatives because we think someone will do it on our behalf. It is true that others are speaking out for the industry; organizations like HSUS and PETA. If we as an industry neglect to take the time to share the truth with our elected officials, their view on the issues will be negatively skewed. We are all well aware of the result-- the pork industry will suffer.

In addition to empowering individuals to protect themselves and the industry, members will receive many other tools for their use. Following training, members will begin receiving regular updates with industry news and information from Washington, D.C.

What are some LEADR Program accomplishments to date?

Humphreys: Over the years, the LEADR program has had numerous accomplishments, from encouraging members to include or remove items from the federal farm bill, to preventing damaging language from being included in food safety legislation.

More specifically, in August of 2009, over 400 emails were sent to federal legislators encouraging them to support the pork industry, which resulted in the USDA purchasing $30 million of pork for U.S. food programs. In September of 2009, the LEADR program was instrumental in changing access to the Chinese market.

How does a producer get involved?

Humphreys: Getting involved in the LEADR program is easy - contact Bryan Humphreys (humphreysb@nppc.org), Director of Grassroots Programs for NPPC, or contact your state association.

Get more information on the LEADR Program.