Keep the Beef Checkoff in the Hands of Producers
By Kevin Kester, 2018 NCBA President
Every beef producer knows that demand is king. Investing the
time, resources, and hard labor required to raise cattle and produce beef only
makes sense if consumers are willing to buy the final product. That is why in
1988, the nation’s cattle and beef producers voted to approve a consumer
marketing program known as the Beef Checkoff. Today, despite having support
from three of four producers, that program is under attack.
The misguided effort to unwind years of producer-led work
comes from U.S. Representatives Dave Brat (R-VA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
Together Representatives Brat and Blumenauer are pushing an amendment to the
2018 Farm Bill that would harm the beef industry and undermine producer control
of the Beef Checkoff Program.
Producer control has been a defining feature of the Beef
Checkoff since its inception. Established by an act of Congress in 1985, the
Beef Checkoff was only made official following a successful producer referendum
in 1988. Nearly 80 percent of producers voted to authorize the collection of a
mandatory $1-per-head fee on any sale of cattle in the U.S.
The funds collected from producers are used for research and
promotion programs designed to benefit the entire industry. A committee of 20
elected industry leaders develop the budget and program plans. From nutritional
studies and food safety research, to retail partnerships and foreign marketing,
the Beef Checkoff funds critical work that builds consumer demand for beef.
It is a sad day when Congress attempts to wrest control of
an industry self-help program away from those who manage and pay for it. But by
removing the ability of the Beef Checkoff to contract with any organization
that engages in agricultural advocacy, the Brat-Blumenauer amendment would do
precisely that. Producers fund the Beef Checkoff out of their own pockets, with
no cost to the taxpayer. They should have the right to determine which
organizations they can and cannot do business with.
Thus far producers have proven perfectly capable of deciding how to
spend their money. Beef producers
fund roughly $72 million of research, promotion and consumer education programs
each year. Independent research shows these programs result in an $11.20 return
on investment for every dollar invested.
Evidently Representatives Brat and Blumenauer are willing to
ignore the Beef Checkoff’s substantial record of success. They claim the
amendment will improve transparency and accountability for all commodity
checkoff programs, including beef. However, their amendment looks like a
classic case of a government solution in search of a problem.
Existing law already requires the USDA to provide oversight to
ensure checkoff programs are managed responsibly and efficiently. It also
requires fair treatment of all stakeholders and a strict prohibition on using any
checkoff dollars to fund lobbying activities. In fact, checkoff programs are
subjected to annual audits to insure all expenses are used only for projects
and other expenses authorized in a budget approved by USDA. USDA also conducts
a review of checkoff management practices and internal controls at least once
every three years.
Producers expect attacks on checkoff programs from opponents
of animal agriculture. Groups like the Humane Society of the United States have
tried to dismantle checkoff programs for years. They hate that producers have
found an effective way to pool their resources and grow demand for their
products. It is regrettable that some members of Congress have chosen to follow
in their footsteps.
If producers were unhappy with the results of the Beef
Checkoff, they could end it. A new referendum on the program can be held at any
time following a request from at least 10% of producers. The critical point is
that the decision would be theirs and theirs alone. Dictating Beef Checkoff
operations is not the role of Congress. True friends of beef producers should
vigorously oppose the Brat-Blumenauer amendment.