USDA announced on Feb. 28 that it had reached a settlement agreement in the lawsuit filed against it concerning the pork checkoff referendum. At issue were the actions taken by then-Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman in calling for the referendum and the subsequent outcome.

The lawsuit — filed by independent pork producers, the Michigan Pork Producers Association and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) — argued that the Secretary did not have legal authority to call for a referendum, did not have the legal authority to terminate the pork checkoff and, citing numerous irregularities in initiating the referendum and the voting process, maintained there was no clear determination of the true outcome of the vote.

The settlement agreement allows for the continuation of the mandatory checkoff.

In addition, the agreement requires a distinct separation between NPPC and the National Pork Board. In effect, that means that NPPC's role as general contractor to implement checkoff-funded pork promotion, consumer education and research initiatives will be terminated. National Pork Board will assume full responsibility for implementation of those programs.

A statement issued by NPPC reads: “NPPC has agreed to this settlement for a simple but extremely important reason — this settlement fulfills our overarching goal of continuing the highly effective pork checkoff for the benefit of every pork producer.” In the future, all NPPC activities will center on legislative policy and regulatory issues, all supported by noncheckoff or unrestricted funds.

The agreement also calls for a survey of all eligible pork producers and importers to be conducted by the USDA sometime after June 2003. If at least 15% of those polled express concerns about the pork checkoff and favor a referendum, one will be held in accordance with the Pork Act.

The agreement does not affect the current structure or the operations of the state pork producers organizations.

With the agreement, all claims against USDA were resolved.

On behalf of the plaintiffs of the lawsuit, Pete Blauwiekel, producer from Fowler, MI, stated: “We believe that USDA's participation in the Settlement Agreement reflects their genuine concerns regarding the referendum and the way it was conducted.”

Timely updates regarding the pork checkoff referendum and additional details about the agreement are posted on our Web site, www.nationalhogfarmer.com .