California - The National Pork Board on Monday called the Humane Society of the United States' new lawsuit over the board's purchase of the trademark "The Other White Meat" an unwarranted challenge to a legitimate business transaction.
The Humane Society filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday in District of Columbia federal over the department's "unlawful authorizations" for the board's purchase of the trademark from a pork industry political lobbying group.
The ongoing payments of $3 million dollars per year under the terms of the trademark purchase agreement violate the Pork Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act of 1985 as well as USDA guidelines, according to the Humane Society.
The trademark purchase allows the board and the lobbying group to evade federal restrictions against the use of pork fee dollars for purposes of influencing legislation and government policy, the Humane Society says.
The National Pork Board is a quasi-governmental entity created as a result of Congress' passage of the Pork Act. Under the Pork Act and its implementing regulations, the Board collects a mandatory checkoff assessment, which is a per-capita fee on all hogs sold or imported in the United States.
The board purchased the trademark in 2006 from the National Pork Producers Council, a political lobbying group, which created the trademark prior to the formation of the National Pork Board in 1986. The board subsequently assumed all marketing responsibilities for pork, it said.
"I find it unusual that HSUS is filing suit now over a decision that was made and approved more than six years ago," board CEO Chris Novak said.
The sale price, agreed to by both boards and approved by the secretary of agriculture, was $35 million. NPPC agreed to finance the payments over 20 years, making the payment from the National Pork Board $3 million annually for a total price of $60 million.
"'The Other White Meat' is an incredibly valuable asset, which is why the board in 2006 took steps to assure it would always be owned by pork producers," Novak said. "In 2000, Northwestern University conducted a study that determined that The Other White Meat was one of the five most recognizable taglines in contemporary advertising. So it was important to producers that it be protected."
Even though the board has moved on to using another tagline in its advertising, it continues to use the trademark The Other White Meat. The phrase will be featured by the National Pork Board at meetings of the American Dietetic Association and with the National Pork Board's Advisory Panel of Retail Dietitians, the board said.
The NPPC also criticized the lawsuit itself on Monday.
"NPPC is reviewing the HSUS complaint, but it appears there is no legal merit to this claim, and it is another desperate attempt by the radical activist group to severely curtail animal agriculture and take away consumer food choices," NPPC CEO Neil Dierks said.