The final vote was 15,915 to end the program, 14,396 to continue the program, making the winning margin a squeaker at 52.5 percent.

In a statement released late on Thursday, Jan. 11, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman said: "This outcome demonstrates that the (national) pork checkoff program does not have the support of the producers it serves and therefore cannot fulfill its stated purpose. Accordingly, I am directing USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service to prepare and issue a final rule to terminate the order and the program conducted under it."

The statement offered no indication of a timeline for this action.

"I realize that this decision is of great significance to the pork industry and to pork producers," Glickman continued. "After carefully considering all points of view, I have concluded that a program that imposes mandatory assessments on pork producers and importers must have the support of its participants in order to acheive the objectives of the law. The (national) pork checkoff program does not have that support."

"We are deeply disappointed and very concerned by USDA's announcement regarding the pork checkoff referendum," says Craig Jarolimek, National Pork Producers Council president. "Instead of a sincere attempt to capture the will of the majority of legitimate pork producers about their checkoff, USDA let political motivation decide the fate of one the most successful commodity programs in American agriculture. USDA unequivocally understands the negative impact termination of the pork checkoff will have on every pork producer in this country. To this end, a group including concerned independent producers, state associations and NPPC, is uniting to file for an injunction to overturn this decision."

At presstime, a timeline for the injunction was unavailable. Also, National Pork Board and the NPPC officials were unavailable for further comment.

Pork checkoff referendum voting, directed by AMS, was conducted at county government offices throughout the United States on Sept. 20 to 21. Absentee voting was allowed beginning on Aug. 18. Anyone who had sold one hog between Aug. 18, 1999 and Aug. 17, 2000 was eligible to vote. Throughout the fall vote counting ran into numerous snags, and there are questions surrounding how accurately and consistently county offices interpreted and followed referendum rules.

The national pork checkoff program began in 1988, following U.S. Congress' approval of the Pork Act. The money was collected and distributed by the National Pork Board and could be spent only for promotion, education and research initiatives. The current checkoff assessment was 45 cents per $100 value of market hogs sold. Feeder pig and seedstock sales also contributed a set amount, as did pork product importers. Last year, about $54 million was collected, of which 20 percent was distributed to state pork producer associations for investment in related programs.