In a meeting today with the USDA’s Office of General Counsel, representatives of the National Pork Producers Council demanded that the agency defend the purchase by the National Pork Board from NPPC of the Pork, The Other White Meat trademarked assets.
NPPC sold to the Pork Board in 2006 The Other White Meat slogan and pork chop logo for about $35 million. NPPC financed the purchase over 20 years, making the Pork Board’s annual payment $3 million. The sale was an arms-length transaction with a lengthy negotiation in which both parties were represented by legal counsel, and USDA, which oversees the federal Pork Checkoff program administered by the Pork Board, approved the purchase. (Checkoff programs require farmers to pay a portion of the sale of their commodity into a fund used to, among other things, promote their product. Taxpayer dollars are not used by Checkoff programs.)
The Humane Society of the United States, a lone Iowa farmer and the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement in 2012 filed a lawsuit against USDA, seeking to have the sale rescinded. Initially, USDA defended the lawsuit, and a U.S. District Court dismissed it for lack of standing, but a federal appeals court in August 2015 reinstated the suit. Before any court proceedings on the merits of the suit, USDA inexplicably changed course and entered into settlement talks with HSUS.
According to NPPC President John Weber, a pork producer from Dysart, Iowa, and CEO Neil Dierks, who met with USDA’s general counsel and reiterated the pork industry’s objection to any settlement, there was no indication where the agency stands on the case.
“We’re concerned that even though USDA has a very strong legal position, it isn’t defending a contract it approved,” says Weber. “We’re concerned that it already has thrown in the towel.”
Dierks says capitulation by USDA would be met with universal anger from pork producers around the country, pointing to the unanimous approval by NPPC elected delegates at their recent annual meeting of a resolution calling on USDA to rely on the judgment of the Pork Board for the management and execution of Checkoff activities. (A related “advisement” was unanimously approved by Pork Board delegates.)
In their meeting, Weber and Dierks pointed out that: the Pork. The Other White Meat trademarks, particularly the pork chop logo, still are being used by the National Pork Board; regardless of how each of the trademarks is being used, the phenomenal recognition and awareness of them continue to make the trademarks some of the most valuable intellectual property in existence today; and the purchase agreement was for fair market value and continues to make sense for the Pork Board to perform under the contract, which provides a valuable service to the entire pork industry.
They also raised the issue of allowing a disgruntled, purported hog farmer to bring down an entire agreement, which would be a bad precedent for all Checkoff programs and federally approved contracts.
USDA admitted it doesn’t know — and never asked — whether the farmer raises hogs or whether he has been paying into the Pork Checkoff program.
[It should be noted that HSUS previously was involved in a lawsuit that included false standing claims in a case against Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The animal-rights group settled bribery claims in that case by paying nearly $11 million to the circus’s owner, Feld Entertainment.]
NPPC also urged USDA to follow the 1985 Pork Act, which created the Pork Checkoff program and gave authority to the Pork Board, through its board of directors, delegates and committees — collectively representing all pork producers — to make decisions about Checkoff funds and programs.