Pork Slogan Lawsuit Update

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By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa (DTN) -- The legal battle to protect the trademark slogan "Pork, The Other White Meat" may see movement yet this summer in the court system, a pork industry official said this week during the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa.

The National Pork Producers Council says it will continue to fight for a slogan that has gained some 300% in value and is widely recognized across the country. What's more, there continues to be a growing concern checkoff programs across agriculture could be in jeopardy because of the threat of lawsuits.

"We have intervened in the case and will be sure pork producers' interests are defended," John Weber, Dysart, Iowa, pork producer and president of NPPC, said during a press briefing this week.

"We feel this logo and trademark belong to the NPP board. NPPC has opposed efforts by third parties to undo the sale. This would call into question all check-off programs."

Recent studies conducted by USDA and a firm hired by the industry place the value of the trademark somewhere between $113 million and $175 million. The widely known trademark comes with an 82% recognition rate, Weber said, making it highly valuable to the industry.

The National Pork Board purchased the trademarks and other marketing properties from the National Pork Producers Council in 2006. USDA approved the transaction as part of the agency's oversight. The Pork Checkoff program set up the Pork Board to administer the program.

In 2012, the Humane Society, the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Harvey Dillenburg, a pork producer from Adair County, Iowa, alleged the Pork Board opposed HSUS legislative efforts to mandate the more humane treatment of pigs and other animals. The lawsuit claimed U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's approval of the sale as well as annual payments made to the NPPC were "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion."

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed that suit, which was reinstated in August 2015. In December 2015, USDA entered settlement talks with the groups, which the pork industry objected to.

This week all parties involved in the case filed a joint proposed schedule for a variety of court proceedings starting this summer. That would include the court considering a motion for summary judgement in August. Summary judgement asks the court to consider the merits of the case based on facts agreed to by both sides.

According to court documents filed this week, the case likely will continue into 2017 based on the proposed schedule.

"We think we will have action later this summer on the case," Weber said. "It is one of the thorns in our side we are going to vigorously defend. We are going to be fully engaged on this."

The original Sept. 24, 2012, lawsuit alleged Vilsack's approval of the board's $60 million expenditure in checkoff funds for the slogan, "violated restrictions on the lawful use of checkoff expenditures, including those set out in the Pork Act, the Pork Order, and the AMS guidelines."

The plaintiffs alleged that the use of the funds to launch a new advertising campaign, "Pork: Be Inspired," without requiring the termination of the purchase agreement was "contrary to the permissible use of checkoff dollars," according to the lawsuit.

In addition, the groups alleged that Vilsack's approval of the $3 million annual payment for the sale of the slogan, "Pork: The Other White Meat" in the 2012 budget was unlawful.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

(AG/CZ)