Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Small hog farmers cry foul, say payments to National Pork Board are used to lobby against them

The National Pork Board, a government-sponsored entity funded by a tax on hog farmers, pays an industrial pork lobby with close ties to the board $3 million every year to license the slogan, the "other white meat," even though the slogan hasn't been officially used since 2011, Danny Vinik reports for Politico. "Farmers who pay for the board are crying foul, saying the deal amounts to a scheme to let the board skirt anti-lobbying laws and promote an agenda directly against their interests."

The 20-year deal sends $60 million from the nonpartisan Pork Board to the slogan’s legal owner, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), a lobby with which it once shared an office, Vinik writes. "Small farmers have long been unhappy about the close relationship between the two groups and see the rich payments for a defunct slogan as an egregious example of the government taking their money and then letting it be siphoned off to an industry group."

That has led a group of small hog farmers and the Humane Society of the United States to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture "to undo the deal and recoup the millions of dollars already paid for the defunct 'other white meat' slogan. Earlier this month a U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit allowed the suit to proceed."

"Many critics also see the deal as symptomatic of a far broader problem with the 'checkoff' programs that have become common across the agricultural world, in which the government requires farmers to make regular payments to promotional boards," Vinik writes. "Checkoffs exist for dairy farmers, mushroom producers and even popcorn processors. Critics say they violate economic freedom and distort the market; big corporate farmers, they allege, easily find ways to influence the boards and siphon the money off to push their own causes."

For hog farmers, "the current problem started with the 1985 Pork Law, when Congress set up the National Pork Board and required all farmers to contribute," Vinik writes. "Today, hog farmers must hand over 40 cents out of every $100 in revenue from pork sales. The board uses the money, totaling nearly $100 million a year, to conduct research and promote the pork industry but is not allowed to lobby."

"The main pork lobby is the National Pork Producers Council, which donated nearly a half million dollars to candidates in the 2014 midterm— mainly, its critics say, to press the interests of big corporate hog farms," Vinik writes. "Legally, it isn’t supposed to use Pork Board money for its lobbying activities. But critics say the two groups have never been as separate as the law calls for and now are essentially colluding through a deal that lets the Pork Board funnel money to the NPCC by assigning an absurdly inflated value to the 'other white meat' slogan; the money then goes to promote the NPPC’s lobbying agenda." (Read more)

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