PORK PRODUCERS CHALLENGE REFERENDUM RESULTS
Pork producers cleared the first hurdle in their legal battle to overturn USDA's decision to terminate the pork checkoff. In federal court in Michigan, a judge granted a temporary restraining order preserving the pork checkoff and enjoining the termination of the program until a full and fair hearing has occurred.
A group of pork producers including independent producers, the Michigan Pork Producers Association and the National Pork Producers Council, filed suit on Jan. 12, 2001. A date of Feb. 2, 2001, has been set for the court to hold a preliminary injunction hearing.
According to USDA, farmers narrowly defeated the checkoff program in a September referendum by a vote of 15,951 to 14,396, a decision that some Alabama producers expressed disappointment with.
L.O. Bishop, a Colbert County hog farmer and president of the Alabama Pork Producers said if the checkoff is discontinued, Alabama producers will continue to work to improve profitability for hog farmers, but added that it would be more difficult without the support of the checkoff program and producers from other states.
The lawsuit filed by producers and the NPPC contends that USDA acted unlawfully in holding a binding referendum despite having no legal authority to do so. The challengers claim that even if a referendum could be held, USDA ran it in a manner that was filled with irregularities, that failed to apply consistent standards or to count all lawfully cast ballots.
The pork checkoff program, created by the Pork Act of 1985, has funded various research projects and was responsible for creating the popular ad campaign, "Pork. The Other White Meat'." Funding for these initiatives comes from producers who pay 45 cents for every $100 of gross sales.
NPPC President Craig Jarolimek, a Forest River, N.D., pork producer, said the council brought the irregularities and inconsistencies in the voting process to the attention of USDA officials.
"We feel strongly that neither the Office of the Inspector General nor USDA took these concerns seriously or even investigated the situation thoroughly," Jarolimek said. "That is the basis for our legal challenge. Pork producers should be outraged at such mismanagement of the referendum and intervention into the pork checkoff by the government."
Brain Hardin, director of the Federation's Pork Division, said it's important that the integrity of the checkoff voting process be above board.
"This checkoff was established by producers to help promote and market their product," he said. "Before such an important program is eliminated, every legal vote should be counted. Possible flaws in the voting procedure could greatly change the outcome of the referendum."
According to NPPC, checkoff promotions have helped put pork on an increasing number of restaurant menus, increasing sales by 17 percent over the last three years.