dead pigdBe inspired!: Near a giant hog factory in North Carolina, downed pigs fester while sprayers spread untreated manure onto fields. Photo: Steve WingPork has a new-and-improved slogan. In an announcement that is guaranteed to avoid mockery or satire, the National Pork Board (NPB) has shifted from declaration to exhortation. No longer will pork’s tagline be “The Other White Meat.” From this day forward, the NPB demands that, as regards pork, we must “Be Inspired” (via NPR):

Board officials said after nearly 25 years, it was time to move on from the old message that compared pork to chicken and instead try to increase sales by focusing on the estimated 82 million Americans who already eat pork.

“The overall goal is to move sales of our product,” said Ceci Snyder, the Des Moines, Iowa-based board’s vice president of marketing. “We want to increase pork sales by 10 percent by 2014. To do that, we needed to make a stronger connection, a more emotional connection to our product.” [Emphasis mine.]

Exactly. Who doesn’t look to pork for inspiration? Actually, I think the NPB is misreading it audience. A far more appropriate tagline would be “Bacon: Be Inspired.” I mean, seriously. Talk about inspiring! We are in the midst of a bacon renaissance (and possibly a bacon backlash). But pork? Inspiration? Meh.

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Sure, it beats “Pork: When You Can’t Afford a Steak”; or “Pork: We’re Pretty Sure It Won’t Give You Swine Flu“; or even “Pork: Wash Hands Thoroughly After Handling.” But perhaps that isn’t saying much.

Mockery aside, this is a good time to remember that the marketing wizards behind this campaign are funded by the NPB, which is a federally-mandated entity that’s one of several so-called USDA “Check-off programs” responsible for marketing, some might say hyping, various agricultural products like pork, milk, cheese, and beef. While operated independently of the USDA and funded not by your tax dollars but by your spending dollars — producers must contribute to these programs based on their sales volume, these check-off programs were established by an act of Congress and have board members selected by the secretary of agriculture.

As it happens, the cheese check-off program received some recent negative attention via The New York Times for its multi-million dollar marketing efforts to push junk food while the USDA itself has been focusing on healthy eating. Grist contributor Parke Davis provided an excellent rundown at the time on the extent to which these checkoff programs are or aren’t true government programs.

In sum, the NPB is itself a bit of pork, in a sense. Why should the federal government be involved in marketing this stuff? Moreover, why should the same agency charged with regulating factory hog farms — the USDA — also oversee the effort to sell more of it? While the effort to sell more pork seems to be going swimmingly, the regulating-farm-practices task seems a bit stuck, well, in the mire. For example, a recent study found that roaches and flies drawn to the huge manure pits that surround factory hog farms can carry antibiotic-resistant pathogens into surrounding communities. I’d “be inspired” if the USDA spent more time trying to clean up such foul conditions, and less time trying to get us to eat more (quite possibly MRSA-infected) pork.

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