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Dismissal sought in HSUS lawsuit against NPPC over 'Other White Meat' campaign

March 14, 2013 | 0 comments

A lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) against the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) may be headed for the end of the legal trail.

At issue in the case is the fact that checkoff dollars - in this case those handled by the NPPC - cannot legally be used for governmental or lobbying work. Congress included that stipulation in the enabling legislation that created the checkoff program.

The humane group brought suit because they maintain that a deal between the National Pork Board and the NPPC related to the "Other White Meat" campaign, violates that part of the law.

In 2006, the NPPC agreed to sell the highly recognized advertising message to the National Pork Board for the sum of $3 million each year for 20 years - a total of $60 million. According to those involved in the deal at the time, the payment was arrived at based on what it would cost the Pork Board to come up with another advertising scheme that was as well-recognized as the "Other White Meat" campaign.

According to advertising surveys, "Pork: the Other White Meat" is considered to be one of the most recognized advertising taglines, slogans or punch lines in the United States.

(Others include "Just do it" from Nike; "Finger lickin' good" from KFC; "Beef. It's what's for dinner" from the National Cattlmens Beef Association; "Got milk?" from the California Milk Processor Board; "the Real thing," Coca-Cola; and "Have it your way," from Burger King.)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Secretary, which were the named defendant in the case, and Department of Justice, which is defending the USDA, have now filed a motion seeking a dismissal of the lawsuit.

In its suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington, DC, HSUS said that the $60 million payment represents a violation of the anti-lobbying clause in 1985 legislation that allowed the creation of the checkoff..

The Pork Board handles the pork checkoff, which collects 40 cents per $100 of value in all sales of hogs and that money is supposed to be used for a variety of things that are approved in the legislation - advertising and promotion of pork, research into pork and swine production, consumer information and producer education.

Importers of pork contribute a like amount to the research, advertising and promotion program, based on a formula.

The NPPC is supported through membership fees and through major events like the World Pork Expo. It is the branch of the pork industry that is allowed to conduct public affairs or lobbying work. No checkoff funding means this organization can lobby lawmakers.



VALUABLE ASSET

In its suit the HSUS argued that the $60 million payments over the course of the agreement amounted to helping pay for lobbying and public affairs. They asked the court to void that agreement on those grounds.

In September 2012 when the HSUS lawsuit was filed, National Pork Board's executive officer Chris Novak said the board had legitimately purchased a valuable business asset.

"I find it unusual that HSUS is filing suit now over a decision that was made and approved more than six years ago," Novak said.

The NPPC had created the advertising slogan and campaign before the creation of the National Pork Board and the deal was intended to keep the campaign going.

Novak explained that the sale price, agreed to by both boards and approved by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture at the time, was $35 million, but because the NPPC agreed to finance the deal over 20 years, it was stretched to $3 a year for 20 years.

"The 'Other White Meat' is an incredibly valuable asset, which is why the board in 2006 took steps to assure it would always be owned by pork producers," Novak said.

In 2000, Northwestern University conducted a study that determined that "The Other White Meat" was one of the five most recognizable taglines in contemporary advertising, Novak said.

The board has transitioned its advertising to another tagline, Novak said, but continues to use "The Other White Meat". It was featured by the National Pork Board in September at meetings of the American Dietetic Association and with the National Pork Board's advisory panel of Retail Dietitians.

The pork checkoff funds national and state programs in advertising, consumer information, retail and foodservice marketing, export market promotion, production improvement, technology, swine health, pork safety and environmental management.

The lawsuit is one of several actions taken by HSUS against the NPPC. A second action targets its Alliance program activities and the use of checkoff funds to allegedly support lobbying activities.

In this second case HSUS filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of the Inspector General seeking an investigation into the use of checkoff funds for lobbying activities by the NPPC.

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