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Four Checkoff Updates

by Campaign for Family Farms

Columbia, Missouri / Washington, D.C.

NPPC Attempts to Rig Checkoff Vote -- Campaign for Family Farms calls for investigation

Hog farmers and members of the Campaign for Family Farms (CFF) are calling for an investigation into attempted election fraud by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

Last week, NPPC’s telemarketers started calling hog farmers telling them that NPPC could send them ballots in the upcoming pork checkoff referendum - in clear violation of the US Department of Agriculture’s referendum rules. Hog farmers were called in a number of states including Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri, and Texas.

Dale Leslein, an Iowa hog farmer and Iowa CCI member, joined other CFF farmers in calling for an end to NPPC’s attempts to illegally distribute ballots. "I received a call on behalf of the National Pork Producers Council telling me to vote to continue this tax and asking if they could request a ballot on my behalf. We’ve heard from other farmers that representatives for the NPPC promised to send them multiple ballots. It’s obvious NPPC wants to rig this vote."

Donald Hoogestraat, a South Dakota hog farmer, also received a call from the NPPC. “They asked to speak with my wife who hadn’t sold a hog for 8 or 9 years. When I told them she was deceased, they offered to send her an absentee ballot. When I told them no, they asked if they could send one to me.”

According to USDA’s rules, independent hog farmers can either vote in person or request an absentee ballot for themselves from their county Farm Service Agency (FSA). Mail in voting will take place between August 18th and September 21st. In person voting will run from September 19th - 21st.

USDA Officials stated that attempts to send ballots to producers or request ballots on their behalf would violate these rules.

South Dakota state Senator and hog farmer Frank Kloucek, who received two calls from NPPC, said, "In this country, our democratically elected government, not private organizations, holds public votes. NPPC trying to send ballots to hog farmers is nothing short of election fraud."

Rodney Skalbeck, a Minnesota hog farmer and member of Land Stewardship Project, said that this is another way NPPC and packers are trying to save the pork checkoff tax. "The Campaign for Family Farms fought hard for the ballots to be sent to hog farmers by USDA, so we would have a fair vote with high participation. Now NPPC, financed by packer money, is illegally acting as a go-between to try and influence the vote."

This is just the latest charge leveled against the NPPC in its attempt to prevent the end of the mandatory pork checkoff, from which it receives $50 million a year.

"Thousands of independent producers called for this vote and the NPPC has tried everything imaginable to derail it," stated Phil Wright, an Illinois hog producer and member of Illinois Stewardship Alliance. "NPPC has given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, it has misused our checkoff dollars to promote the checkoff, it has promised to spend $4 million to win the vote, and now they are trying to rig the vote."

Independent producers said that the NPPC’s most recent actions show the desperation of the organization.

"NPPC is trying to rig this vote because they know that legitimate hog farmers are going to vote to end the mandatory pork checkoff," stated Missouri hog farmer, Eddie Foster. "NPPC told me that not only would they send me a ballot, but they would send one to everyone in my family. Even before this latest trick by the NPPC, I planned on voting to end the mandatory pork checkoff. We’re sick and tired of our checkoff dollars going to support things like meat packers raising hogs.”

Hog farmers demand Ag Secretary reverse biased decision on pork checkoff vote

Hog farmers catch NPPC breaking pork checkoff vote rules; AMS OKs election fraud.

Washington D.C. - Hog farmer members of the Campaign for Family Farms (CFF) are calling on Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to overturn a flawed AMS decision that attempts to change the pork checkoff vote rules in midstream. In the late afternoon of Friday, August 4, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of USDA caved in to pressure from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), deciding to allow the NPPC to request ballots on behalf of their supporters, rather than follow the referendum rules which require each individual hog farmer to request their own ballot.

"In her statement, AMS Administrator Kathleen Merrigan says that the rules explicitly state that no one but the producers can request an absentee ballot from the FSA. That's what she told us several times. But then she tells the NPPC they can get ballots for their supporters. AMS has one set of rules for NPPC and another for us independent producers. We demand that Secretary Glickman reverse this blatantly biased and incorrect decision," said Minnesota hog farmer Paul Sobocinski, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Family Farms and a member of the Land Stewardship Project.

On July 24, July 28, and July 31, AMS officials told CFF members that third parties - even the spouse or parent of another producer - could not request a ballot for another producer. During the same time period, NPPC was phoning supporters, and telling them they would get ballots for them.

"It is crystal clear what is going on. The NPPC knows we have enough hog farmer votes to win the referendum, and they're running scared. They're calling in every favor they have in Washington D.C. to keep the checkoff money rolling in. They know the only hope they have to win this vote is to lie, cheat and steal - but we independent producers are not going to let them win," said hog farmer Roger Allison, spokesperson for the Campaign for Family Farms and member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

Fifteen other groups joined the Campaign for Family Farms to demand that Glickman reverse AMS's slanted decision.

"From day one of the petition drive calling for a vote to end the mandatory pork checkoff, hog farmers have been fighting both the NPPC and AMS. It's been 2 &Mac184; years now, and they are not going to stop us. We are going to win this vote because hog farmers know that the checkoff hasn't helped them. It's a tax we have to pay that helps corporate factory farms and meat packers," said Campaign for Family Farms spokesperson Dale Leslein, a hog farmer and member of Iowa CCI.

The pork checkoff is a tax paid on every hog sold which generates nearly a million dollars a week for the NPPC and is the source for nearly all of their revenue. Later this month hog farmers will vote whether or not to end the mandatory pork checkoff. The Campaign for Family Farms is encouraging all producers who have sold one or more hogs and paid the pork checkoff tax between August 18, 1999 and August 17, 2000, to call their local FSA office and request a ballot to vote in the referendum. Producers can request absentee ballots from now until September 18. Producers can also vote in person at their FSA office from September 19-21.

"Pork producers are going to vote to end the pork checkoff because the NPPC has proven they can't be trusted. For years, bona fide independent producers have been demanding that NPPC clean up its act and start listening to us. Instead of reforming their ways, they've become more and more corrupt. Hog producers are going to vote down the pork checkoff tax," said Campaign spokesperson Phil Wright, a hog farmer and member of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

Since the mandatory pork checkoff began, it has taxed hog farmers out of $500,000,000, hog prices have hit their lowest levels since the Great Depression, and 2 out of 3 hog farmers (250,000) have gone out of business.

NPPC Caught Again & Again Misusing checkoff dollars to sway pork referendum

Columbia, Missouri - This week, two more examples of National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) misuse of checkoff funds to influence the vote have been identified by hog farmer members of the Campaign for Family Farms. Hog farmers state that NPPC’s repeated misuse of checkoff funds to influence the checkoff vote demonstrates the lack of accountability of the checkoff. Also, hog farmers are calling on the Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA to suspend checkoff spending until the final results of the referendum are posted.

On Friday of last week, hog farmers found out NPPC is proposing to use $12,000 in checkoff funds to air 30 second radio ads promoting the checkoff and emphasizing the benefits of the checkoff program. The commercials will run in the major pork producing areas of Colorado during the absentee voting period (August and September).

“It’s unconscionable that at the same time producers’ share of the retail dollar has dropped from 46¢ to less than 30¢, NPPC attempts to spend checkoff dollars to influence the upcoming checkoff vote,” said Rhonda Perry, Missouri hog farmer and Missouri Rural Crisis Center member. “They can’t play by the rules because they’ll lose, they know that independent hog farmers will vote to end their mandatory, multi-million dollar tax.”

Also, NPPC has used checkoff dollars to fund a recent study by Louisiana State University (LSU) that was supposedly intended to find out which type of producer (independent, contract or corporate) will likely be left in hog production in the future.

The head of research for the study, LSU Associate Professor Jefferey M. Gillespie, Ph.D, confirmed that checkoff dollars were being used. According to Gillespie, the study contains 2 questions about how producers are planning to vote in the pork checkoff referendum. Gillespie said the NPPC will use this information to help them identify different types of producers that will vote to continue the mandatory pork checkoff.

NPPC is violating federal rules by using checkoff dollars influence the vote. “The USDA clearly explained to the NPPC that they could not use checkoff dollars to sway the vote, yet that’s exactly what they’re doing,” stated Wayne Demmer, an Iowa hog producer and Iowa CCI member. “They will attempt to use the radio ads to promote the benefits of the checkoff and the information from the LSU study to develop referendum strategies to try to figure out how to win votes.”

“I just can’t believe that Ag Secretary Dan Glickman is going to allow NPPC to use checkoff dollars to influence the vote,” said Paul Sobocinski, Minnesota farmer and member of the Land Stewardship Project. “Glickman needs to step forward now and put in place an immediate moratorium that prohibits the use of checkoff funds for communication that touts the benefit of the checkoff. This moratorium should be in effect until the final results of the checkoff are released.”

NPPC and Corporate Agribusiness Team up to Influence the Checkoff Vote

Recently, hog farmer members of the Campaign for Family Farms discovered that the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) Vote “Yes” Campaign is being heavily promoted by corporate agribusiness.

Both Pioneer Hi-Bred and Farmland Foods, Inc. have sent letters to sales reps, dealers, and hog farmer members praising NPPC and the mandatory pork checkoff tax, and encouraging them to vote in the referendum.

“This just confirms what we’ve known all along - NPPC is being bankrolled by corporate money,” said Dale Leslein Iowa CCI member and Dubuque County hog farmer. “They can’t win the independent producer vote, so they need to sell their soul to corporate interests outside the industry to get support.”

Pioneer is telling their sales reps to “directly urge pork producer customers to vote ‘Yes.’” They’re even providing their reps with “Vote ‘Yes’” form letters to send out.

Farmland is trying to convince their pork producer members that the largest effort to defeat the referendum is coming from people not associated with pork production, eventhough over 19,000 hog farmers signed the petition calling for a vote to end the mandatory pork checkoff.

“NPPC’s alliance with corporate money should send a message to all the independent producers out there,” said Phil Wright, independent hog producer and member of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance. “If you support vertical integration and packer ownership of livestock, vote for the checkoff; if you support independent hog farmers and want to take back control of your industry and your money, vote ‘NO’.”

Both Pioneer and Farmland are members of NPPC’s Pork Alliance - a consortium of agribusiness giants aligned with NPPC to support policies like packer ownership and corporate concentration in the hog industry.

Since the checkoff became mandatory in 1986, hog farmers have been forced to pay more than $500,000,000 into the program. During that time: 2 out of every 3 hog farmers have gone out of business (over 250,000 hog farmers); hog prices hit historic lows (8¢ in 1998) - worse than the depression of the 1930’s; hog farmers’ share of the retail dollar plummeted from 46¢ to less than 21¢; NPPC added a packer representative - with the power to vote - to its board of directors.

Published in In Motion Magazine, September 19, 2000

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