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USDA publishes final rules for
mandatory pork checkoff referendum

Campaign for Family Farms
Washington D.C.

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of USDA released the final rules for the referendum to end the mandatory pork checkoff today. Producers who have been working to end the mandatory checkoff are ready to vote it down.

"We're excited that the rules are finally out and the dates for the referendum are set. Producers have been working a long time for this vote and we're ready to vote down the mandatory pork checkoff. Thousands of producers have contacted us in the last few weeks, telling us that they are going to vote to end the mandatory pork tax," said Campaign for Family Farms spokesperson Paul Sobocinski, a hog farmer and member of the Land Stewardship Project.

Producers can start requesting an absentee ballot that they can use to vote by mail from their local FSA office starting August 1. Producers can request a ballot by calling the FSA office, sending them a letter or fax, or stopping by the office. Mailed ballots must be received by FSA by September 21. Producers can also vote in person at their FSA office between September 19-21. The ballot will read, "Do you favor the continuing the Pork Checkoff program? Yes or No." To be eligible to vote, a producer must have sold at least one hog that they own between August 18, 1999 and August 17, 2000.

Although hog farmers are glad the referendum date is finally set, they see problems with how the referendum will be conducted. Campaign for Family Farms spokesperson Rhonda Perry, a hog farmer and member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center said, "These rules were made to order by the NPPC. AMS ignored independent producers suggestions to make the referendum more open and fair, like mailing ballots to producers and allowing the hog farmers who called for this referendum to cast a ballot. They may have ignored producers' comments but they are not going to be able to ignore our votes. Producers are going to end the checkoff."

When Iowa hog farmer Larry Ginter saw the National Pork Producers Council's press release on the upcoming mandatory pork checkoff referendum, he laughed. Ginter is a Campaign for Family Farms spokesperson and a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

"It says right here that the NPPC thinks 'the pork checkoff has been a phenomenal success at what it was designed to do.' What a crock! The mandatory pork checkoff has taxed us out of a half a billion dollars, brought us the lowest prices of the century, and two out of every three hog farmers (250,000) have gone out of business since it started. If it was designed to hand the industry over to the factory farms then it's a success," said Ginter.

Hog farmers know that it is going to take a lot of work to win this vote, and they're up against the NPPC's $4 million PR machine. "Since the beginning, the mandatory pork checkoff referendum has been about the power of independent family farmers vs. huge sums of money and corporate greed. The NPPC and their corporate allies have tried to stop this referendum at every turn and they haven't succeeded. In the end, the votes of independent pork producers are going to make the difference. We're going to vote it down," said Perry.

The Campaign for Family Farms is a coalition of seven farm and rural groups that includes the Land Stewardship Project (Minnesota), Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Wisconsin Rural Development Center, Indiana Campaign for Family Farms, and Community Farm Alliance (Kentucky).

Published in In Motion Magazine - August 7, 2000

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