The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced (Jan. 11) the national mandatory pork checkoff program, in effect since 1986, would be terminated as the result of a nationwide referendum held late last summer. Of 30,347 votes cast, 53 percent opposed (15,951) continuing the program while 47 percent (14,396) voted to continue the checkoff.

“We are deeply disappointed and very concerned by USDA’s announcement regarding the pork checkoff referendum,” said Craig Jarolimek, National Pork Producers Council president. “Instead of a sincere attempt to capture the will of the majority of legitimate pork producers about their checkoff, USDA let political motivation decide the fate of one of the most successful commodity programs in American agriculture. USDA unequivocally understands the negative impact termination of the pork checkoff will have on every pork producer in this country.”

Producers in favor of the pork checkoff, as well as NPPC, which administers the checkoff program, plan to come together and file an injunction seeking to overturn the decision to end the program.

Accusations are being made that the election wasn’t administered fairly.

“Again and again producers are citing to us examples of flaws in the referendum voting process,” said Karl Johnson, co-chair of the vote Yes Task Force. “These situations include giving out the wrong voting materials; failing to post lists of producers who had requested absentee ballots; and failing to post lists of producers who had voted in person, all of which resulted in the disqualification of the voter without their knowledge. Equally as disturbing, other producers were allowed to cast both absentee and in-person ballots or were allowed to cast ballots in violation of referendum rules.

“The checkoff was designed by pork producers, for pork producers, so that all pork producers would pay their fair share and reap the benefits from the checkoff-funded programs,” added Johnson, who farms near Mankato, Minn. “The progress made with the image, acceptance and demand for pork will slip away, the pork industry could experience accelerated consolidation and coordinated efforts of research, education and information will be lost. In a time when even larger slaughter numbers are expected, as forecasted by USDA’s own Quarterly Hogs and Pigs Report, programs providing those tools to producers become even more critical.”

The announcement of the vote totals on the pork referendum came 112 days after voting closed on Sept. 21. And the end of the $54 million pork checkoff program will have ramifications for other checkoff votes in the future. USDA is presently reviewing signatures from a petition circulated among beef producers calling for a referendum, and the United Soybean Board could also have problems if pork demand falls due to the end of the pork promotion campaign.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) issued as statement by president George Hall, a producer from Mustang, Okla., which assured beef producers that beef checkoff –funded efforts would continue.

“The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sympathizes with pork producers, who have lost a major weapon in their fight to maintain consumer demand for pork. At the same time, we will continue to support beef industry checkoff-funded efforts to increase beef demand, which over the past two years have turned the demand tide and given producers new hope for their operations and their industry,” Hall said.

“Our expectation continues to be that USDA is conducting a thorough and professional validation of the beef checkoff petition. Enough signature collection irregularities exist that the Department should do no less.”

United soybean Board president Doug Magnus said, “The results of the pork checkoff referendum conducted by USDA may have a detrimental effect on the producer-driven U.S. pork industry. This, in turn, could have a negative impact on U.S. soybean farmers and the U.S. soybean industry.” Magnus farms near Slayton, Minn.

The soybean and pork industries have been leveraging their checkoff funds in a joint meat export promotion program through the U.S. Meat Export Federation. These programs are designed to increase global utilization of U.S. pork products and boost soybean consumption.

Each commodity checkoff program has a different structure. In the case of the soybean checkoff, there is a mandated five-year cycle of petitions allowing producers to call for a referendum. In the latest cycle – 1999 – less than 3 percent of U.S. soybean producers signed petitions calling for a referendum.