Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is the NPPC telling the truth about the pork checkoff referendum?

Following our earlier coverage of the pork checkoff referendum request, I read with interest Brian Depew's blog post on the Rural Populist.

Brian was a hog farmer himself at the time of the 2001 referendum on the pork checkoff, in which pork producers failed to approve the program's continuation, but nevertheless had their vote overturned in a deal between the National Pork Producers Council, the checkoff program, and USDA. He calls upon all pork producers to send in USDA's form requesting a new vote before the Jan. 2 deadline.

Then, I read the comment on Brian's post, by Dave Warner. Here is my comment in response at the Rural Populist:
I read Dave Warner’s comments with astonishment. Is this the same Dave Warner who is a director of communication for the National Pork Producers Council?!

Dave writes, “The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) does NOT receive Checkoff funds.”

That astonished me, because I thought the NPPC received millions of dollars in checkoff funds each year as a contractor to the checkoff program, carrying out checkoff-sponsored activities. In addition, I thought the NPPC in 2006 won an especially sweet backroom deal, in which the checkoff program agreed to pay the NPPC $60 million ($3 million each year for 20 years!) — with no work required at all — for the use of the property rights to the “other white meat” brand. I thought this deal was dreadful from the point of view of pork producers, because they had themselves already paid for most of the advertising that built the “other white meat” brand. And I thought it was a travesty that nobody at the NPPC, the checkoff, or the USDA would share with the public the dubious “appraisal” on which this sale was based.

See this link for details:

Dave writes, “NPPC has nothing to do with the Checkoff.”

That astonished me, because I thought the NPPC was a major player in the deal that overturned the democratic outcome of the last pork referendum in 2001, when pork producers failed to approve the continuation of the checkoff and yet are still to this day forced to pay the “mandatory assessment” (please, nobody call it a “tax,” even though it is collected involuntarily using the federal government’s powers of taxation). The NPPC was one of the parties to the “agreement” with the checkoff and USDA which ended a lawsuit over the 2001 referendum and led belatedly to the current request for producer input.

See this link for details of how the NPPC was involved in that agreement:

I think of the NPPC and the checkoff as closer to each other than tweedledee and tweedledum, with just the thinnest veneer of official separation.
In the end, I fear the tricky maneuver of scheduling the request for producer input over the Christmas season will succeed in denying pork producers a vote yet again. I notice that the independent organizations that were actively involved in the 2001 referendum still have up only a forlorn timeline whose last entry is 2004. It seems doubtful that anybody is getting organized to represent pork producers' interests vigorously before January 2. And both the mainstream press and the agricultural press gave little coverage to this issue.

[Update: For producers who want to request a vote, here is the link to the USDA site. Please post to the comments here if you have any trouble with internet access.]

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