Humane Society Has Beef With Pork Industry Over 'Other White Meat'

Animal-Rights Group Suit Claims Proceeds for Trademark Rights to Slogan Are Being Used for Lobbying

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The pork industry's "other white meat" ad slogan is at the center of a federal lawsuit filed Monday in which an animal-rights group alleges that the federal government improperly allowed marketing expenditures to be funneled into lobbying.

Although the National Pork Board replaced the long-running slogan last year with a new primary tagline, Pork: Be Inspired," the Humane Society of the U.S. in its complaint says that the National Pork Board is still paying $3 million a year annually to obtain the rights to the slogan from the National Pork Producers Council. The Humane Society alleges that the council is using those proceeds for lobbying.

"The deal allows $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 famers," the Humane Society stated today, announcing the lawsuit. The complaint names the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the defendant because the agency oversees the Pork Board's budget.

The agriculture department did not immediately respond for comment. The National Pork Producers Council said in a statement that it is "reviewing the [Humane Society] complaint, but it appears there is no legal merit to this claim, and it is another desperate attempt by the radical activist group to severely curtail animal agriculture and take away consumer food choices."

The Humane Society and Pork Producers Council have long been at odds over the treatment of animals in the food supply, often lobbying charges against each other.

The National Pork Producers Council -- which oversees government affairs -- for years handled the "The Other White Meat" campaign as a contractor of the National Pork Board, which runs research and consumer promotions using fees collected on hog sales. (Under the legislative program, known as national "Pork Checkoff," pork producers pay 40 cents for each $100 value of hogs sold.) The two organizations separated in 2001. About five years later, the Pork Board agreed to purchase the rights to the campaign for $60 million, to be paid over two decades, according to the lawsuit. The Pork Board is still making the payments despite replacing "The Other White Meat," with the "Pork: Be Inspired" tagline as its primary consumer communications effort.

In the lawsuit, the Humane Society says that the agriculture department's approval of payment for the slogan rights "while also approving payment for its replacement deprives producers of the use of the check-off funds for lawful promotions and effectively gives those funds to the [National Pork Producers Council] to use in programs intended to influence legislation and government policy," which it says is prohibited under federal rules.

The Pork Board declined to comment on the lawsuit, deferring comment to the agriculture department. But Pork Board spokeswoman Cindy Cunningham told Ad Age , "We still want to own [the slogan] and we still use it regularly." Indeed, when the new campaign was launched last March, Ad Age reported that the board still planned to use "The Other White Meat" in nutrition communications.

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