US pistachio and almond supplier Paramount Farms and several of its affiliates have filed a lawsuit against the California Pistachio Commission (CPC) in US District Court seeking relief from the mandatory assessments levied by the CPC and used to fund generic advertising and marketing campaigns as well as the government relations initiatives.

Paramount alleges in its filing that "pursuant to California law and under threat of severe financial penalty, plaintiffs have been forced (and continue to be forced) to pay millions of dollars in annual assessments" to the CPC for advertising campaigns and government relations initiatives it strongly opposes and believes have actually harmed California pistachio growers.

"The CPC programmes are totally ineffective and will just not get us where we need to be," said Chris Tuffli, Paramount Farms' communications director. "It is critical that, as an industry, we move beyond the CPC's commodity mindset and set our sights on the bigger goal of stimulating consumer demand and that is why we have taken these actions today."

Tuffli said Paramount believes the CPC advertising and promotional campaigns are ineffective because they position pistachios as a commodity product. Paramount believes pistachios can and must be marketed as a branded, packaged consumer good, targeting consumers all year long, rather than just for limited times such as special events and holidays.

Pistachio production has increased from 300 million pounds in 2002 to 350 million pounds in 2004, with further increases expected. Paramount believes that the current CPC advertising and promotional campaigns will not build sufficient demand to meet the expected production increases.

Tuffli also said that the CPC's government relations representation has lacked leadership: "Issues like the threat from Iran, trade tariffs and aflatoxin are critically important to the future of the industry. We believe that the representation afforded us by the CPC has been ineffective and is not what it needs to be as we evolve as an industry."