Hog farmer members of the Campaign for Family Farms (CFF) has criticized Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman for failing to complete the termination of the mandatory pork checkoff program, and charged Veneman is letting the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and other checkoff-fnded commodity groups run her administration.
They called on Veneman to publish the final rule terminating the checkoff tax, and demanded she immediately remove National Pork Producers Council Chief Executive Officer Al Tank from the Bush Administration U.S. Department of Agriculture transition team.
USDA is involved in a Michigan lawsuit that was initiated by NPPC after it announced Jan. 11, hog farmers had voted to end the mandatory pork checkoff program by a margin of 53% to 47%. Over 30,000 producers voted in the national referendum in August and September 2000. The official rules of the pork checkoff referendum state: "Assessment collection under the order would be terminated not later than 30 days after the date it is determined that termination of the order is favored by a majority of the producers and importers voting in the referendum."
A Jan. 31 ruling by the U.S. District Court, in Michigan, clearly allows the USDA to issue a final rule terminating the program at any time, as long as the termination does not take effect until 60 days after a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for March 16. The USDA's publishing of the termination rule in the Federal Register is the next step required to implement the decision made by hog farmers to end the checkoff.
Hog farmers have been calling and writing Veneman over the past three weeks urging her to publish the final rule. So far, she has refused. Veneman even canceled a meeting that was confirmed to take place in her office Feb. 28 with hog farmer members of the Campaign for Family Farms. Until Thursday, Feb. 15, USDA staff members were telling hog farmers the USDA was prohibited from issuing the termination order, more than two weeks after the Jan. 31 ruling allowing them to do so.
"By failing to publish the final rule terminating the mandatory pork checkoff, Secretary Veneman is saying that the Bush Administration does not want to cut taxes that support their inside-the-beltway friends, like the NPPC," said Monica Kahout, a Minnesota hog farmer and member of the Land Stewardship Project. "The pork checkoff is a failed and unpopular tax, voted down by the majority of people who pay it. Read our lips, President Bush. Cut this tax."
"Secretary Veneman has turned her back on us. Thousands of pork producers cast their ballots knowing that the program would end within 30 days of the vote announcement, if a majority voted to terminate, and that is exactly what happened. Veneman's inaction means we have to continue paying $1 million a week," said Mark McDowell, an Iowa hog farmer and member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. "We do not support the pork checkoff tax. Veneman needs to terminate the program now."
Missouri hog farmer and Missouri Rural Crisis Center member Rhonda Perry agreed. "The problem is, Veneman is listening more to NPPC lobbyists than to hog farmers in the countryside. Tank, the executive director of NPPDC, is a close advisor to Veneman and sits on her transition team. Veneman needs to fire him immediately and terminate the pork checkoff program."
Member groups of the Campaign for Family Farms include Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Land Stewardship Project (Minnesota), Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Illinois Stewardship Alliance.