Sept. 1 served as the official kickoff date for the National Pork Producers Council's (NPPC) voluntary contribution initiative known as the Producer Consent Program.

On Oct. 25, a U.S. District Court judge's decision that the pork checkoff is “unconstitutional” launched NPPC back into defending the Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act. Checkoff dollars, administered by the National Pork Board, cannot be used to influence public policy, therefore, legal defense of the mandatory program falls to NPPC.

Now, the need for unrestricted funds is magnified as NPPC legal counsel prepares to defend the pork checkoff through the appeals court process.

Pilot Project Underway

NPPC staff and producer leaders face the dual challenge of signing up packers willing to deduct the voluntary contribution, while convincing pork producers to submit a consent form directing them to do so.

“Producers must complete the consent form before the deduction can be made by a packer,” explains Jon Caspers, NPPC president-elect.

The prescribed deduction of 10¢/$100 market value was set in a resolution passed by NPPC delegates at their annual meeting last March. All funds will be split equally between the respective state organizations and NPPC.

Coinciding with the producer-packer campaigns, NPPC has begun a pilot project with IBP to ensure the deduction can be made seamlessly.

“Ten producers with different market strategies, from four different states, have agreed to participate,” says NPPC's Pat McGonegle. Once the electronic bugs are worked out, NPPC will work with other packers who have indicated their support.

Because the Producer Consent Program is strictly voluntary, producers can discontinue the deduction at any time, with proper written notification to NPPC or their state organization.

Producer Consent forms are available from state pork producer groups or by calling NPPC at (515) 278-8012.

The Need is Great

NPPC CEO Neil Dierks acknowledges that some confusion still exists between the legislated pork checkoff program, recently reduced to 40¢/$100 market value, and the voluntary Producer Consent initiative. He's quick to remind producers that pork checkoff funds are strictly earmarked, by law, for pork promotion, research and consumer information. In no way can those funds be used to influence public policy or advocacy issues, such as animal welfare, environmental issues or defense of the mandatory checkoff. That's where NPPC picks up the ball.

“There's often a non-checkoff component with these issues that the (National) Pork Board can't work on,” says Dierks. He uses a sports metaphor to explain: “We're in a situation where you can carry the ball 95 yards, you get it on the 5-yard line, and you're out of downs. When it becomes a regulatory issue, how are you going to deal with it if you don't have recourse to take your case to the government? The issue is to get the ball across the goal line. Oftentimes, it takes a combination of effort — guaranteeing solid science (Pork Board) and someone looking out for the regulatory process (NPPC).

“It comes down to this,” Dierks continues. “These are the advocacy issues that will determine how producers develop their operations and their freedom to operate them. In the end, NPPC is here trying to deal with these issues so producers have a unified voice.”