The HSUS alleges in a lawsuit that hog farmers' interests are not being served by the National Pork Board funneling millions of farmer contributions to an industry lobbying group. (David Brown/The Washington Post)

The Humane Society of the United States filed a federal lawsuit on Monday claiming the National Pork Board, a quasi-governmental entity funded by mandatory farmer contributions called checkoffs, illegally funneled millions of dollars to an industry lobbying group under the guise of buying the old marketing slogan “Pork: The Other White Meat.”

The animal welfare organization looked into the 2006 purchase and alleges the pork board paid $60 million — far above the famous slogan’s estimated value of $36.1 million — to the National Pork Producers Council, a lobbying group that it says shouldn’t have owned the slogan’s rights in the first place. The purchase is being meted out in $3 million annual payments to the NPPC, with each installment approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a co-defendant in the lawsuit along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Those millions, in turn, have helped fund the pork council’s lobbying campaigns that work to undermine the Humane Society’s efforts to, among other things, end the use of gestation crates among pork producers , the Washington-based nonprofit group claims.

The payments “allow the [National Pork] Board and NPPC to evade federal restrictions against the use of pork checkoff dollars for purposes of influencing legislation and government policy,” the suit alleges about the mandatory pig farmer contributions .

The Humane Society wants the USDA to halt further payments to the pork industry lobbyists and to “recover already distributed funds” paid to the group since 2006, according to the complaint. That would be approximately $21 million.

Agricultural Marketing Services, the USDA agency that oversees the National Pork Board, declined to comment today. Both the National Pork Board and the pork lobby issued statements defending the purchase of the trademarked slogan.

Read the rest of the story here.

Further reading:

* Pork industry gives sows room to move

* Read the Humane Society of the United States lawsuit