The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan has ruled that Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman acted in accordance with the law when she entered into a settlement agreement continuing the national pork checkoff program.

The February 2001 settlement between USDA, the Michigan Pork Producers Association, the National Pork Producers Council and three Michigan pork producers continued the pork checkoff program, while requiring the administrative separation of checkoff and non-checkoff activities. That separation was completed in July, when responsibility for pork promotional, educational, and research programs was transferred from NPPC to the National Pork Board.

"The rule of law has prevailed, as we always predicted it would," says NPPC president Barb Determan. "The court's findings were clear and concise. There were never enough valid petitions filed to trigger a vote and the Secretary of Agriculture doesn’t have the legal authority to order a
binding referendum unless 15 percent of bona fide pork producers demand one. This ruling not only allows the checkoff to continue, it keeps the program firmly under the control of pork producers, where it belongs. Pork producers large and small throughout the nation who benefit from the programs funded by the pork checkoff will be pleased with this ruling."

Following the announcement of the settlement agreement on Feb. 28, the Campaign for Family Farms filed a court challenge in March to the continuation of the checkoff. CFF alleged that Secretary Veneman was required to follow the results of a disputed referendum from September 2000.

Specifically, the district court ruled that "the referendum rule and affirmative vote did not mandate the termination of the pork checkoff program," and "to this extent, the settlement agreement of the parties is lawful."

The court says that then-Secretary Dan Glickman, who had ordered last fall's referendum, had "no statutory authority to authorize" a binding referendum. The court also found that a referendum was ordered even though "USDA apparently determined that the petitions submitted did not meet the 15 percent threshold." NPPC, MPPA and the Michigan pork producers expect to file motions at a future date to seek the dismissal of CFF's remaining challenges to the checkoff.

National Pork Producers Council