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Use of pork checkoff funds for ads aimed at referendum questioned

The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture concerning the authorization of $12,000 in pork producer assessment funds to finance a series of radio advertisements aimed at building political support to continue the checkoff program.

The Farmers Union complaint over the ads now airing on rural radio stations came as pork producers prepare to vote September 19-21 in a nationwide referendum concerning continuation of the program that requires producers to pay a fee on every pig and hog sold. Federal law specifies that mandatory checkoff funds be utilized exclusively for marketing, research and promotion. Funds are explicitly prohibited for political activities, including influencing the outcome of a referendum. The Colorado Pork Producers’ Council, however, received approval from the USDA in August to spend $12,000 in producer checkoff funds to air a series of radio ads touting the benefits of the mandatory assessment program.

Dave Carter, president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, noted this week, “Producer checkoff dollars intended to build consumer demand for pork, are now being utilized to convince producers to continue the checkoff program. This kind of misappropriation of funds is the reason that pork producers demanded a referendum.”

The ads currently being aired on several Colorado rural radio stations do not mention the referendum, but the message in clearly targeted to build producer support for continuing the checkoff program. The announcer mentions that the checkoff program “benefits all producers.”

The advertisements are scheduled to air on the days immediately preceding the referendum, and are slated on rural radio stations that reach a high percentage of the state’s pork producers.

“Checkoff programs can play a legitimate role in promoting agricultural producers,” Carter said. “But the pork checkoff program has a history of misuse. Producers are rightfully upset that the dollars they are forced to pay into this promotional program are instead being used to lobby for continuing the program itself.”

The pork checkoff was initiated in 1986 to fund promotion, marketing and research programs. Under the checkoff, producers are required to pay 45 cents into the promotion fund for every $100 worth of pigs and hogs they sell. The checkoff averages about 50 cents per hog.