Delegates to the 2016 Pork Forum were furious when blamed by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for initiating a settlement in a case brought by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), alleging the sale of “Pork. The Other White Meat” using Pork Checkoff funds was an unlawful act.
The case was originally dismissed in 2013. It was returned to the lower court after an appellate court reversed the initial decision. The USDA and Department of Justice have attempted to settle the case, leaving the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and National Pork Board (Pork Board) out of the equation despite their attempts to intervene.
In the meantime, here are commonly asked questions and answers:
1. Does the lawsuit involve more than “Pork. The Other White Meat” slogan?
The 2006 agreement covered two assets – the “Pork. The Other White Meat” slogan and the Pork trademark.
2. Is “Pork. The Other White Meat” retired?
Despite claims by the HSUS that the “Other White Meat” slogan was replaced by the 2012 “Be Inspired” slogan, NPPC CEO Neil Dierks stressed that the “Other White Meat” slogan still is used as a heritage brand and in a number of other ways.
3. How was the lawsuit initiated in the first place?
Behold, the power of one. NPPC Assistant Vice President of Domestic Policy and Counsel Michael Formica said one single producer from Adair County, Iowa, was upset by the 2006 purchase of the trademarks. However, the ramifications go far beyond this case. Agricultural law expert Roger McEowen said in this AgDay update the case could bleed into other agricultural sectors, too. He said, “In this instance, the court said the farmer does have standing to challenge how those fund operators use the funds. That is a big development.”
4. Are either NPPC or the Pork Board being sued?
The NPPC and Pork Board were involved in the initial transaction, but the USDA is the government entity to approve the contract. The HSUS filed the lawsuit over approval of the trademark purchase and the Pork Board’s annual payments to NPPC. HSUS argued that the sale and payments were unlawful since the Pork Board is prohibited from using checkoff dollars to influence legislation. Read more.
5. Why is the Department of Justice involved?
Simply put, the DOJ became involved once the lawsuit was filed against the government, or in this case – the USDA. The DOJ should be defending the USDA and the “Other White Meat” sale, however, it is not exhausting its legal options and instead is opting to settle with HSUS. Neither the NPPC nor the Pork Board have been involved in the settlement discussions despite attempts to intervene.
6. Did the government originally approve the contract for the trademark sale?
The answer is “yes,” and as Dierks pointed out during a news conference, the government also continues to approve the Pork Checkoff budget, which includes the annual $3 million payment to the NPPC.
7. What happens next?
USDA has until May 2 to issue its review of the National Pork Board’s contract and will have until the end of June to decide whether to authorize the 2016 payment to the NPPC.