A federal court in the District of Columbia has dismissed, for lack of standing, a lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States and several other plaintiffs against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), challenging the secretary’s approval of the National Pork Board’s purchase of the slogan “Pork, The Other White Meat” from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). The Humane Soc’y of the U.S. v. Vilsack, No. 12-1582 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D.D.C., decided September 25, 2013). Details about the lawsuit appear in Issue 455 of this Update.
According to the court, the individual pork farmer plaintiff lacked standing because he could not show that changes to the advertising funded by the pork checkoff program following the board’s purchase and retirement of the slogan affected him financially. In fact, since the board began advertising with the slogan “Pork: Be Inspired,” the net return on investment to pork producers rose from $13.8 to $17.4. While the farmer alleged that his return would have been even higher if the money had been spent on “other legitimate programs,” the court found his argument “entirely conjectural and unsupported by facts.” The farmer also claimed that the NPPC’s lobbying, funded by the purchase, was contrary to his interests and harmed his operations. The court said that he failed to provide any facts to support an inference that NPPC’s lobbying actually harmed his operations. The court also found that the individual plaintiff could show neither causation nor redressability.
For similar reasons, the court concluded that the organizational plaintiffs could not establish standing either on their members’ behalf or as organizations. As to the plaintiffs’ organizational interest, the court said that their alleged harm—“having to devote significant resources to counter ‘NPPC’s checkoff-funded lobbying activities’”—is not a cognizable injury because “lobbying is what these organizations do, so being prompted to do it can hardly qualify as an injury that confers constitutional standing.” And “the fact that they have decided to redirect some of their resources from one legislative agenda to another is insufficient to give them standing.”