Posted September 30, 2013
A U.S. District Court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) which challenged Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s approval of the National Pork Board’s purchase of the marketing slogan, “Pork: The Other White Meat,” according to an article by MeatPoultry.com, available here. A Capital Press article on the case is available here.
In Humane Society of the United States, et al. v. Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, No. 12-1582 (D.D.C. Sept. 25, 2013), HSUS alleged that the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) sold the marketing slogan to the National Pork Board and unlawfully used the $60 million to lobby against animal welfare campaigns. Plaintiffs argued that the sale violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 706, alleging that the Secretary’s approval was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.” Specifically, plaintiffs claimed the contract associated with the sale resulted in the use of pork checkoff dollars for purposes of influencing legislation and government policy, when “the Board is prohibited from using pork producers’ contributions for that purpose.” Plaintiff Harvey Dillenburg, a hog farmer, claimed that he had standing because the purchase diminished the return on investment of his checkoff dollars. The complaint is available here. The text of the opinion is available here.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge how the National Pork Board spends money collected from hog producers. Judge Jackson said the plaintiffs failed to show that that they have “suffered an injury” that “can be redressed by this lawsuit.” Judge Jackson also ruled that plaintiff, Harvey Dillenburg, did not have standing because his claim was only hypothetical and he was not “injured in fact” by the NPPC’s lobbying efforts.
Judge Jackson stated that “lobbying is what these organizations do, so being prompted to do it can hardly qualify as an injury that confers constitutional standing.” She continued, “the fact that [the organizations] have decided to redirect some of their resources from one legislative agenda to another is insufficient to give them standing.”
USDA oversees the checkoff program and can reject expenditures that are in violation of federal laws or regulations.
Checkoff programs are also referred to as research and promotion programs which promote and provide research and information for a particular agricultural commodity without reference to specific producers or brands. Producers and handlers usually finance these programs for assessments charged on a per unit basis of the marketed commodity. For more information on Checkoff programs, please visit the National Agriculture Law Center’s website, here.