Hog farmers with the Campaign for Family Farms strongly criticized the newly-released rules for the referendum on the mandatory pork checkoff proposed by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Simple justice requires that this vote be as accessible as possible for all legitimate producers, in order to obtain the highest level of voter participation," said hog farmer and Land Stewardship Project member Paul Sobocinski, Wabasso, MN. "Hog farmers fought for a vote on the mandatory pork checkoff, and we won that. Now, it looks like we will have to fight to make the vote fair--but we are ready to do that, too."

A major concern of hog farmers is that thousands of legitimate hog farmers would be prevented from voting under the rules proposed by the AMS. "AMS' eligibility rules would shut out thousands of producers who called for the referendum and who were forced out of raising hogs by the lowest prices in history--$8 hogs--brought about by corporate over-expansion encouraged by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) using checkoff funds," said hog farmers and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement member Mark McDowell, Hampton, IA. "We are not going to sit still and let AMS' foot-dragging and NPPC's lobbying deny producers their democratic right to vote.

Another serious problem with AMS' proposed rules is the balloting process. "We need a mailed-out ballot," said hog farmer and Illinois Stewardship Alliance member Mike Shan. "AMS has a list of more than 58,000 verified hog farmers and they refuse to use it. Instead, they want to require producers to go into town to vote, and they want them to do it within a 48-hour period.

AMS has mailed out ballots and allowed for at least four weeks of voting for every other checkoff referendum in the past year, which helps to increase the participation of producers in the referendum. Why are they making it difficult on hog producers to vote? Because hog producers want to vote down the mandatory pork tax."

Campaign for Family Farms hog farmers also are pushing AMS to hold the vote before harvest. "Every week that goes by, NPPC gets another million dollars of our checkoff money. There is no reason this vote can't be held before harvest, other than NPPC's undue influence in the halls of USDA," said Missouri hog farmer Rhonda Perry, a member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

AMS is accepting comments until May 18 on the proposed mandatory pork checkoff referendum rules. The campaign is encouraging hog farmers to write in with their comments on the proposed rules. "AMS did not want to hold this vote in the first place . Now, they are trying to block the very democracy that hog farmers acted on and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman stood up for when he called for this vote. Hog farmers need to write in to get a fair vote," said Sobocinski.

For more information abut submitting comments on the proposed rules for the mandatory pork checkoff referendum, contact the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, 573-449-1336.

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