Judge tosses out pork checkoff challenge

A lawsuit that pitted a major animal rights group against the national pork checkoff program has been thrown out of court. A federal judge has ruled the Humane Society of the United States lacks legal standing to challenge the promotions program.
Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published on September 26, 2013 9:44AM

A legal challenge against the national pork checkoff program filed by a major animal rights group has been thrown out of federal court.

The Humane Society of the United States and other plaintiffs don’t have the legal standing to challenge how the National Pork Board spends money collected from hog producers, according to a federal judge.

The plaintiffs failed to show they have “suffered an injury” that “can be redressed by this lawsuit,” rendering them ineligible to pursue the case, said U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

Last year, HSUS filed a lawsuit against the USDA, which oversees the checkoff program, claiming that money intended from promotions was unlawfully diverted to lobbying.

The complaint claimed that in 2006 the checkoff board agreed to buy an advertising slogan — “Pork, The Other White Meat” — from a group devoted to lobbying, the National Pork Producers Council.

HSUS alleged that the checkoff board agreed to spend $60 million over 20 years to buy the slogan, characterizing it as a long-term investment, but then replaced it with another catchphrase after five years.

The purchase was a method of transferring money intended for pork promotions to the NPPC for lobbying activities, the complaint alleged.

HSUS asked the judge to declare the sale unlawful and order NPPC to return the money.

However, Jackson refused to consider those arguments, finding that the plaintiffs haven’t shown that the board’s use of checkoff dollars harmed their interests or those of their members.

Just because HSUS and a community group in Iowa spend money to counter the lobbying activities of NPPC, that doesn’t constitute a harm they can sue over, the judge said.

“Put another way, lobbying is what these organizations do, so being prompted to do it can hardly qualify as an injury that confers constitutional standing,” Jackson said.

A hog farmer who joined the lawsuit, Harvey Dillenburg, claimed that he had standing because the slogan purchase diminished the return on investment of his checkoff dollars.

The judge rejected his argument, ruling that the injury was only hypothetical and that he wasn’t actually harmed by the NPPC’s lobbying efforts.


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