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Secretary Glickman calls for a pork check-off referendum

SALT LAKE CITY>> Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman’s announcement today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will conduct a producer referendum on the national pork check-off program drew a standing ovation from the independent producers attending the National Farmers Union convention here.

Pork producers filed petitions with the secretary last year calling for a referendum on the mandatory check-off program, under which producers were required to pay 45 cents for every $100 of a pig’s value when it is sold. Although the number of signatures submitted exceeded the level needed to automatically trigger a referendum, the issue has been mired in a debate over the validity of some of the petitions.

Glickman’s announcement today clears the path for USDA to begin conducting a referendum in the next few months.

Edwin Jess, an independent pork producer attending the Farmers Union convention from Fort Morgan, CO, said, “I commend Secretary Glickman for ordering a referendum.”

Frustration has mounted among independent producers in recent years about the utilization of the mandatory funds collected from growers. Despite the collection of more than $48 million in mandatory funds last year, pork prices plummeted to historic lows, forcing thousands of independent producers out of business.

“The check-off program was implemented to promote the pork industry. The continued exodus of producers clearly demonstrated that the program may have benefited the industry, but has done little to benefit the producer paying the bill,” Jess added.

Charles Klaseen, a western Colorado livestock producer and chairman of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union board of directors, added, “As an agricultural producer, I feel it’s only fair that we have the right to vote whether or not we want the check-offs. If they’re doing their job, we’ll support it; if they’re not, we will probably vote the check-off down.” He continued, “I think the secretary ought to authorize votes on the other check-offs so the producer has the opportunity to have their way.”

The pork check-off program has drawn particular criticism from the independent producers in Colorado, who have expressed a concern that the mandatory funds were utilized to conduct an advertising campaign in the fall of 1998 intended to sway voters on a ballot referendum concerning environmental restrictions on industrial hog operations. Federal law prohibits the use of check-off funds for political purposes.