The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeking to end payments made to the National Pork Producers Council (Pork Council) for the purchase of the registered mark “Pork, The Other White Meat.” HSUS v. Vilsack, No. 1:12-cv-01582 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D.D.C., filed September 24, 2012).
According to the complaint, which details the circumstances leading to the mark’s creation, development and use, the Pork Council should not have retained ownership of the mark, and the $60-million, 20-year contract for its purchase should have been terminated when USDA decided to retire the mark and create a new one. HSUS contends that the contract is funded with pork-producer checkoff program dollars, which cannot be used for lobbying. Because the Pork Council is a lobbying organization, HSUS claims that the ongoing payments under the purchase agreement violate federal law.
HSUS seeks a declaration that these expenditures of checkoff funds are unlawful, recovery of the funds already distributed to the Pork Council, an injunction to stop USDA from further “unlawful authorizations or expenditures of checkoff funds related to the . . . marks,” attorney’s fees, and costs. Among other matters, HSUS claims that it has standing to bring the action because it is forced to spend money countering the Pork Council’s lobbying and other activities, particularly regarding its own initiatives to halt the use of gestation cages in pork production. The complaint asserts in this regard, “Since HSUS resources would otherwise be spent on advocacy, legislation, and education related to improving the treatment of pigs and other animals, Defendant’s unlawful conduct directly impedes Plaintiff’s activities, and causes a significant drain on its resources and time.” An individual plaintiff, Iowa pork-producer Harvey Dillenburg, is allegedly harmed by unlawful checkoff expenditures and the use of such money by a “lobbying organization that pushes for policies that Mr. Dillenburg considers harmful to his operations as an independent producer.”