By TIM ALEXANDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A recent lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Adair County, Iowa pork producer Harvey Dillenburg against the USDA and Secretary Tom Vilsack represents the latest “bullying tactic” by the HSUS against animal agriculture, according to a top pork industry official.
The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charges the National Pork Board (NPB) “struck an unlawful backroom deal” with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) over the transition of ownership of the popular “Pork: the Other White Meat” slogan.
According to the suit, an agreement for the NPB to pay NPPC $3 million per year for 20 years to transition ownership allowed “$60 million in pork producers’ money collected for marketing and promotion purposes to be diverted into industry lobbying efforts aimed at harming animal welfare and small farmers.” This is according to the HSUS.
It is unlawful for checkoff funds to be used for lobbying purposes.
“The (NPPC) has a failed track record when it comes to representing family farmers and preventing animal cruelty,” stated Joe Maxwell, a former Missouri lieutenant governor who was recently hired as the director of rural development and outreach for HSUS.
Maxwell is also an independent pig farmer from Audrain County who told the Omaha World-Herald he sees his job as expanding the market for “humane” meat.
“While we can’t force NPPC to care about animals or family farmers, through this lawsuit we can work to stop our money from being unlawfully funneled straight to its lobbyists who work against us,” added Maxwell.
While serving as a Missouri legislator prior to his election as lieutenant governor, he worked against large-scale, industrialized farms and supported family farmers, according to his biography on HSUS’ website.
NPPC CEO Neil Dierks said the suit appears to hold no legal merit. “It is another desperate attempt by the radical activist group to severely curtail animal agriculture and take away consumer food choices,” he said in a prepared statement.
“I find it unusual that HSUS is filing suit over a decision that was made and approved more than six years ago,” said Chris Novak, NPB CEO. “’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.
“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. So it was important to producers that it be protected.”
The lawsuit represents something of a departure for HSUS, which is more widely known for combating production practices including the use of cages for layer hens, gestation crates for swine and the overall treatment of animals on farms and ranches. HSUS-led public outcry has spurred ballot initiatives and legislation in some states affecting how farmers and ranchers produce food – along with, allegedly, higher prices for farm products at supermarkets for eggs, poultry and other food.
HSUS raises money for salaries for its lobbyists and others in the organization through deceptive means by misrepresenting its true interests and goals to the general public, according to Dierks.
“HSUS preys on the emotions of domestic pet owners with deceptive advertising and fundraising,” he said. “It raises money on images of abused puppies without homes, yet virtually none of those funds go to local shelters. Instead, those dollars go toward multimillion-dollar campaigns to attack family farmers and American meat production.
“This is also the latest bullying tactic by HSUS in its efforts to force NPPC to abandon its position on allowing farmers to choose production practices that are best for the welfare of their animals.”
The suit asks the court to cancel the purchase of the tagline and ensure the remaining balance of the money laid unpaid goes to “producers who fund the checkoff instead of NPPC’s anti-animal, anti-farmer lobbying agenda.” It does not challenge the constitutionality of the checkoff program.
An attempt by Farm World to secure interviews with both Maxwell and Dillenburg through HSUS media representative Anna West was rebuffed last week, instead referred to Matthew Penzer, special counsel for HSUS.
“We are attaching a copy of the complaint that we filed, which contains the relevant information to answer your questions ... Let me know if you have any questions about the legal issues presented in the case, which we will be happy to assist you with,” wrote Penzer in an email reply, without acknowledging the request for interviews.