In the past few weeks, I have talked with dozens of pork producers about the pork checkoff referendum. Time and time again I have heard the same comment from those who voted "no" in the referendum.

"I didn't vote against the checkoff; I voted `no' to send a message to NPPC administrators and leadership because my concerns were not being taken seriously."

Trust me, your message came through loud and clear. The 50:50 split in the voting sent a resounding message.

Half of you either do not approve of how your checkoff dollars have been allocated or, for whatever reason, you don't clearly understand the limitations of how they can be spent. Whatever the case, the outcome signals serious concerns that must be addressed.

As I write this, a ruling on the outcome of the referendum is stalled in a Michigan court. I hope the short hiatus will give everyone on both sides of this issue some time to reflect on what the outcome will mean.

Whether the checkoff continues or not, I hope you will think long and hard about the truth and consequences of the outcome.

Think through both scenarios thoroughly. Allow yourself to visualize the pork industry with or without a checkoff. Allow both scenarios to sink into your core because the work ahead could well be the most important work we have ever undertaken.

Irrelevant Victor Whoever emerges the victor, it will soon become irrelevant.

The sooner both sides can shake off their differences, the quicker we can set about the business of building a solid, progressive future for the most efficient pork production system in the world.

I'm not being dramatic here. It has to be done.

This is a call to arms folks. We are at a point in the pork industry that will set a new course for all pork producers.

Think about the power of the "Pork - The Other White Meat" slogan that is programmed in the minds of our domestic, even our global, customers.

Think about the access and flow of information in today's open pork industry. Stubbornness or shortsightedness could eventually make it all proprietary and available to but a few.

Think about the value of the Pork Quality Assurance program and what it means to others in the pork chain.

Think about the gains made in domestic and global pork consumption. Or, the potential of new ethnic and fast food markets.

Think about pork's emergence as a major, acceptable protein source in the foodservice market.

Think about the critical need for the united front against animal rights activists as they challenge proven, efficient production systems.

Think about the Water Keepers' class action lawsuits being waged. As an industry leader pointed out: "These guys are hell bent on destroying pork producers, and they do not care if you are the largest in the industry or the smallest. Once they establish a precedent - if they don't like having your pigs nearby - they will use that precedent against you."

We have tremendous talent and vision in the pork industry - people with a desire to do the right thing.

Another Turning Point Industry veterans cite the Moline 90 meeting held in 1965 as a turning point for the U.S. pork industry. It was. From that meeting came an industry-unifying program called "Blueprint for Progress," which served as a master strategy to organize pork producers. It also served as a springboard for the self-help checkoff programs.

We need such an event in 2001.

The checkoff referendum was the most divisive event I've seen in nearly three decades of pork industry reporting. What a shame it would be if we frittered away our strengths and opportunities as a result. The chicken and beef folks would be ecstatic if we did.

Let's not. Instead, let's bolster the pride and vision of those who remain at the industry's core. Let's rally behind this defining point in our industry's history. Let's reach beyond traditional pork producer circles and include all of the beneficiaries of our production, quality and promotional gains. It's time for all in the pork chain to contribute dollars and sense.

I believe this industry is on the verge of great advancements. At the risk of sounding evangelical, I'll quote these words of a friend who said it better than I could: "It's all about leadership now; it's all about vision; it's all about selflessness; it's all about creating the future; it's all about doing the right thing. It is nothing else."

No matter the outcome of the checkoff referendum, we are at a turning point in the U.S. pork industry. I pledge to do whatever I can to keep it strong. I hope you will do the same.