Pork producers vote down campaign

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The "other white meat" ad campaign for pork producers appeared at an end Thursday after Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman announced that a vote by pork producers had determined there wasn't sufficient support for continuing the checkoff that funded the ad campaign and other marketing efforts.

The checkoff, in which 45 cents per $100 of every hog sold in America, had financed a $43 million marketing effort, with roughly $10 million a year being the ad campaign from Bozell, Chicago. Mr. Glickman said 14,396 hog farmers voted to continue the program, but 15,951 voted against it.

"This outcome demonstrates that the pork checkoff program does not have the support of the producers it serves and therefore cannot fulfill its stated purpose," he said in a statement. "Accordingly, I am directing USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service to prepare and issue a final rule to terminate the order and the program conducted under it."

Officials of the National Pork Producers Council expressed disappointment and, citing "flaws" in the referendum process, said a group of producers would file suit to set aside the vote.

"We are deeply disappointed and very concerned by USDA's announcement," said Council president Craig Jarolimek, "Instead of a sincere attempt to capture the will of the majority of legitimate pork producers about their checkoff, USDA let political motivation decide the fate of one the most successful commodity programs in American agriculture. USDA unequivocally understands the negative impact termination of the pork checkoff will have on every pork producer in this country. To this end, a group including concerned independent producers, state associations and NPPC is uniting to file for an injunction to overturn this decision."

Karl Johnson, chairman of the Vote Yes task force the group organized, said that without the campaign, "The progress made with the image, acceptance and demand for pork will slip away."

In 1988, the program drew support from 77.5 percent of pork producers in a referendum, but the program had been under attack from a coalition of pork producers called the Campaign for Family Farms.

Pork producers who like the program could still contribute to a voluntary effort to continue the ad campaign, but such an effort appeared unlikely. Spokesmen for the National Pork Board did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

The vote could send a shock wave through other similar agriculture boards that are already under attack on several fronts. The U.S. Supreme Court in November agreed to hear a case in which a mushroom grower is arguing that a government assessment for an industry ad campaign amounts to compelled speech. Meanwhile, the Agriculture Department has set a new policy calling for more regular referendums on the assessments for marketing.

Copyright January 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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