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Pork Checkoff 'Spy' Funds Questioned
NPPC paid PR firm to keep tabs on unknowing sustainable ag and family farm groups, according to Council documents leaked to the media.

1/17/97: The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has paid $50,000 to investigate the activities of six family farm and sustainable agriculture groups, according to NPPC documents leaked to the media last week. Part of that money, which was paid to a Washington, D.C., public relations firm, came from the federal pork checkoff, says Alan Guebert, an Illinois-based journalist who wrote about the NPPC's surveillance work in this week's edition of his syndicated column.

The PR firm, Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin, Inc., was hired by the NPPC in 1996, and its investigation of grassroots groups continues as part of a $100,000, checkoff-sponsored program called Strategic Communication Initiatives, according to NPPC officials.

"The NPPC is run by the big producers and corporate factory farms for their own benefit, and they use our money to do it," said Rodney Skalbeck, a Renville County, Minn., hog farmer and a member of the Land Stewardship Project. "Now they're trying to defuse some of the organizations that represent the average family farmer and rural citizens. It's got to stop. Let's end the mandatory checkoff."

The checkoff is a mandatory system for collecting money from every hog farmer in the country for promotion, research and education purposes. In 1996, the NPPC received approximately $45 million in pork checkoff funds from tens of thousands of producers. Approximately $24 million of that total came from the largest 40 producers in the country, who own more than 1.7 million sows collectively.

Three of the groups being watched by the firm without their knowledge -- Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project -- are members of the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE). The Campaign has confronted NPPC officials on several occasions for promoting industrialized hog factories at the expense of independent family farmers. CFFE groups have also questioned the truthfulness of information provided to state and federal legislators by NPPC and its state affiliates.

In response to the news of NPPC using producers' money for surveillance, the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment has called for a congressional investigation into the use of NPPC checkoff funds, an end to the mandatory checkoff, and the resignation of NPPC president Bob Ruggles.

"I should be shocked by NPPC's paranoid tactics but I'm not," said Iowa CCI member and Marshall County, Iowa, hog producer Larry Ginter. "Why should my money go to support spying on farm organizations that are trying to help me and other independent family hog producers? It's time to end the mandatory pork checkoff."

Ron Perry, a Livingston County, Mo., hog farmer and a member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center was also outraged: "It's obvious the NPPC has lost touch with the concerns of average hog farmers. They see us as a threat because we've successfully exposed their corporate agenda. We're having a big impact."

Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin is regarded as the number one "spies for hire" public relations firm in the country, according to John Stauber, editor of PR Watch, a publication that covers the public relations industry. John Mongoven, president of the firm, was a public relations consultant for Nestle Foods when the company was attempting to counter an international church-led boycott protesting the food company's deadly practice of selling infant formula to women in third world countries.

The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment is a coalition of eight groups in six states that are fighting against hog factories and concentration in the livestock industry. Other members of the coalition include Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Citizens of Lincoln Township, North Carolina Land Loss Prevention Project, Animal Welfare Institute and the Oklahoma Toxics Campaign.

Release from Brian DeVore, communications coordinator, The Land Stewardship Project.

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