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Farm and Food File for the week beginning Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015
Hey, mistakes happen
Rare is the day any newspaper is printed without a mistake. All strive for perfection; few ever achieve it.
Newspapers, of course, don’t make mistakes; newspaper reporters and editors make mistakes. Last week, one of those reporters was me.
In a column outlining the newly reinstated lawsuit challenging how the National Pork Board paid the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) a staggering $60 million for the slogan Pork. The Other White Meat, I noted, “The Board’s boss at the time, Steve Meyer, wrote that the increase would ‘allow the NPPC to get the money they need for the next four years.’”
According to the lawsuit, the Board’s boss did say exactly that. The suit also makes clear that the boss’s name was Steve Murphy, not Steve Meyer.
Meyer isn’t Murphy, so the mistake is all mine and the aggrieved Steve Meyer let me know it. “Mr. Guebert,” he emailed within a day of the column being published in Iowa, “I was never CEO of the National Pork Board. As with a lot of things you write, you don’t have your facts straight.”
The first point is, of course, fair; the latter, gratuitous. Mistakes happen; rubbing them in doesn’t correct them. We correct our mistakes.
The column, if you recall, outlined a 2012 lawsuit filed the Humane Society of the United States against Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. In it, HSUS alleges “unlawful expenditures” of federal checkoff dollars paid by the National Pork Board— overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—to the National Pork Producers Council, a former key Board contractor and pork’s top lobbying group.
Specifically, HSUS claims USDA OKed the Board’s spending $60 million in pork checkoff funds to buy Pork. The Other White Meat (which the suit abbreviates PTOWM) slogan from NPPC because the lobby group had trademarked it “contrary to law.”
That action, claims HSUS, “allow(ed) the Board and NPPC to evade federal restrictions against the use of pork checkoff dollars for purposes of influencing legislation and government policy,” in short, lobbying.
How that $60 million deal came about, according to HSUS, involves both Murphy and Meyer. It began in “…in 2004 [when] the Board entered a new agreement with NPPC relating to the annual license for PTOWM.”
“Under the new license, the Board increased its annual payment to NPPC from one dollar to $818,000. In its message to the president of the Pork Board about the agreement, Board CEO Steve Murphy wrote that the increase in the annual license rate… would ‘allow the NPPC to get the money they need for the next four years.’”
But, explains the lawsuit, the $818,000 was more than two times the amount the Board’s own consultant figured the slogan was worth.
“Although Steve Meyer, an agricultural economist and consultant to the Board on the valuation of PTOWM, had previously prepared a report recommending that the Board should pay no more than $375,000 annually to license the mark, the Board agreed to this new fee rate of more than double that valuation.”
So, explains the lawsuit, Steve Murphy’s group hired Steve Meyer. Murphy’s group, however, punted on Meyer’s professional advice to pay no more than $375,000 annual license fee and, instead, paid $818,000. Why?
Two years later, in 2006, the suit continues, the cost exploded—to $60 million, or $3 million per year for 20 years—when the Board agreed to buy PTOWM.
Prior to that deal, too, explains HSUS, “Dr. Steve Meyer” again “… advised the Board that… there would have been little market other than the Board to purchase the generic slogan… (and) that it would be politically difficult for the NPPC to sell the mark that was built with producer funds to any individual company.”
So, why did the checkoff Board pay even a nickel—let alone $60 million—for Pork. The Other White Meat campaign when, according to the lawsuit, it had already paid “$500,000,000 in checkoff funds promoting PTOWM in its advertising programs”?
The answer, HSUS alleges, is to illegally use checkoff funds to finance NPPC lobbying. If so, that was a huge mistake.
Hey, mistakes happen. I know.
© 2015 ag comm
The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada. Source material, past columns and information on The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey, a book by Guebert and Mary Grace Foxwell, are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.