(ThinkGeek.com)One has to feel sorry for Big Pork. First there was that nasty swine flu that put everyone off pork chops, even though the industry managed to get the name changed to H1N1. Profits are down for producers like Smithfield. Despite America’s love affair with all things bacon, pork consumption also continues to drop. The industry’s hiring of a popular blogger to push pork, including sending her to a CAFO (look! Family farmers! Happy pigs on concrete! No festering manure lagoons to be seen!), stinks to high heaven to some in the blogosphere.
And now everyone’s laughing at the National Pork Board’s ham-handed response to an imaginary product, Canned Unicorn Meat. ThinkGeek.com got a 12-page cease-and-desist order from the Pork Board’s lawyers for daring to riff off the industry’s 23-year-old tagline, “the Other White Meat,” in an April Fool’s Day satire: “Pâté is passé. Unicorn — the new white meat. Excellent source of sparkles!”
Both the Washington Post and the Associated Press covered the fracas with glee. “We certainly understand that unicorns don’t exist,” said Ceci Snyder, vice president of marketing for the National Pork Board, told the AP. “Yes, it’s funny. But if you don’t respond, you are opening your trademark up to challenges.”
Scott Kauffman, president and CEO of Geeknet Inc., the parent company of ThinkGeek, is clearly having a blast over the silliness. “It was not our intention to confuse the public as to the attributes and qualities of the two meats,” he said, pointing out that GeekNet sells many real pork-promoting items, such as bacon gumballs and bacon soap (“Just think: if you had some Bacon Soap you could have that scent of bacon, without risking all the microbes associated with rubbing your naked body with raw pork products.”)
What’s not funny about this episode is that farmers are footing the bill for the Pork Board lawyers’ waste of time. The Pork Board is funded by one of the National Check-off programs, which require by Congressional mandate that producers of 17 different commodities have to fork over a set percentage of their revenue to the appropriate board, which gets to decide how to spend the funds to promote the product and fund research. (For more on these programs, read this Ethicurean.com post.) Not all those decisions are popular, such as the board deciding to spend $60 million buying the slogan “The Other White Meat” from the National Pork Producers Council in 2005. That slogan is on its way to being phased out, it seems, now that Americans are interested more in taste than in less fat.
This is not the first time that the National Pork Board has gone after a parody of the slogan. In 2007 I wrote about how Jennifer Laycock, an Ohio mom and “lactivist” who promotes breastfeeding awareness on her blog and through Café Press t-shirts — slogans included “That’s my baby’s lunch you’re staring at” and “The other white milk” — received a similar cease-and-desist letter from the Pork Board. Laycock got a media rep and a lawyer, and eventually a personal apology from the CEO of the Pork Board.
So, chances are good that the Pork Board will stop chasing the unicorn meat. But the bigger question is when will small, pastured-meat producers stop being forced to send their tiny profits off to such humorless swine?