Trademark dispute heads to U.S. court

The U.S. hog industry is bracing for another trademark dispute this summer.

The U.S. government, a major animal rights activist group and the National Pork Producers Council will be fighting in court over who should own the famous marketing trademark: “Pork. The Other White Meat.”

“It’s one of those thorns in our side,” NPPC president John Weber said at a news conference at the beginning of World Pork Expo. In fact, it was the first issue he addressed at the news conference.

The Humane Society of the United States, an activist group that doesn’t have much in common with Canadian humane societies, sued the U.S. agriculture secretary over his department’s approval of annual payments from the National Pork Board to the NPPC for the use of the trademark.

The HSUS sees the payments from the farmer-funded board to the NPPC as unacceptable funding of lobbying by a body that is banned from lobbying.

The U.S. government has fought the HSUS in court, originally getting the suit thrown out in a district court but then having the battle recommence when an appeals court reinstated the suit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in December that it was in settlement talks with HSUS over the suit, which outraged the NPPC and the pork board. Both organizations are happy with the 2006 deal, in which NPPC sold the logo and trademarked phrase to the board in exchange for $3 million per year payments.

The NPPC gained intervener status in the suit, so if the case is tried this summer, the council will be able to argue its perspective in court.

The phrase itself is dated, after being introduced in 1987 and generally abandoned in 2011, when “Pork: Be Inspired” became the main marketing term.

However, “Pork. The Other White Meat” can still be seen in many places, including a number of pork board employees working on the barbecues at the World Pork Expo.

“We feel this logo and this trademark belongs to the National Pork Board,” said Weber.

“One of their strategic missions is to promote pork.”

The U.S. hog industry spends most of its time worrying about pig diseases, trade deals and disputes, profitability and the complexities of the production, slaughter and retail sectors, but Weber’s introduction of the trademark battle before all those other issues highlighted the distracting nature of the battle.

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