WASHINGTON – The USDA reached an agreement last week with pork producers’ groups to allow the pork checkoff to continue if the National Pork Board severs its ties to the National Pork Producers Council.
The settlement, announced Feb. 28, requires the National Pork Board to employ its own management and staff; manage separate contracts for promotion, research and consumer information projects; maintain separate offices from NPPC and maintain separate communications from NPPC.
The restructuring must begin immediately and the USDA expects the board will have changes in place within three months.
In a referendum held last fall, pork producers voted 15,951 to 14,396 to kill the mandatory checkoff.
The NPPC and the Michigan Pork Producer Association immediately filed for an injunction, claiming USDA had no legal authority to conduct a binding referendum because petitions requesting the vote represented less than the 15 percent of producers and importers required by law.
A U.S. District Court in Michigan agreed and granted a temporary restraining order Jan. 29 that blocked USDA from taking steps to end the checkoff program. A preliminary injunction hearing was scheduled March 16. The U.S. Justice Department advised the USDA to settle out of court.
The agreement gives the pork board a two-year reprieve to prove to producers the checkoff is worth keeping.
USDA will conduct a survey by June 2003 to determine whether 15 percent of producers are in favor of holding another vote on the checkoff’s future, although checkoff opponents can conduct another petition drive at any time.
Assessments in 1999 totaled $42.2 million. Total import assessments were $3.6 million the same year.
Last week’s agreement is not likely to end the checkoff’s court battle, as opponents have indicated they will file suit to end the program. However, on the heels of the settlement agreement, pork groups immediately asked the Michigan judge for a “declaratory judgment,” or legal ruling on the case.
NPPC’s role as a general contractor to implement checkoff-funded programs will be terminated. The council will focus only on policy-related legislative and regulatory issues.
The agreement does not affect current operations of state pork producer organizations. State groups will continue to operate independently and be accountable for checkoff funds.
States may, however, cooperate on projects and communications with state affiliates of the NPPC.
In Ohio, where the Ohio Pork Producers Council was exploring options for a state-based checkoff, the board decided unanimously March 5 to suspend those efforts.
The state council will hold its annual committee day March 19 to discuss priorities. OPPC President Marvin Larrick said the referendum battle has been a wake-up call, both nationally and locally.
He said the OPPC is developing a new mission statement, as well as goals and objectives to better respond to Ohio pork producers’ needs.