By Vaughn Meyer
U.S. cattle producers are rightly questioning why we are forced to promote foreign beef with our personal checkoff dollars. The Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) will tell you the number one reason the checkoff doesn’t specifically promote “United States beef” is because the Beef Act & Order – the enabling legislation under which our checkoff operates – also requires collection of a dollar per head on imported cattle.
As a six-year member of the CBB Board of Directors, I know this standardized CBB speech is sent out to all CBB board members (along with other topics) telling us how to address producer questions. This is a tactic in total board control which I have never found to be expressed in the Act & Order.
Going back in history, the final Act & Order version does require importers to contribute a dollar per head for promotion, research, and information. However, the 94th Congress’ H.R. 7656 Public Law 94-294 (May 28, 1976) states: “The purpose of this program is to maintain and expand domestic and foreign market uses for United States beef.” In my research, I have only found two amendments: the first, which changed the required passage from two-thirds to a simple majority, and the second, which simply stated importers shall also be assessed a dollar per head.
In retrospect, CBB’s answer is half true concerning importers. But the greater questions for us producers are these:
- When were the words “United States beef” amended out of Congress public law?
- Could the circumstances be that we continue to operate the beef checkoff against the intent of Congress?
- Did the final drafters of the Act & Order take it upon themselves to omit original language?
The in-house powers-that-be will argue that you cannot have domestic beef if you assess importers, too, but facts disputed this rhetoric while U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) was still alive.
Speaking of COOL, the standardized reply would point out the 6.9 million dollars of importer benefit to our checkoff. This sounds like a real smart business venture, but when I study the daily graphs of cattle market declines in relation to the congressional killing of COOL, I have to wonder how many years will it take to recoup the 20 billion dollar losses to our industry? Losses which were the result of a grand-multi-year lobbying effort partially funded through our own checkoff funds! My calculator provides an answer of 2,898.5 years!
Now many are going to claim that the use of checkoff funds for lobbying is impossible as stated in the Act & Order… in part due to that great mythical “firewall” between NCBA contractor and policy operations. This sounds like a true and proven safeguard of our money, but consider the fact that NCBA contract work usually is accompanied with implementation fees between 38% to 42% versus the standard 20% requested by other contracting entities… This additional doubling of their implementation fees amounted to nearly 5.4 million additional dollars in 2015. Implementation fees transcend into contractor income and are no longer checkoff dollars. When invested on the policy side of the firewall, they help finance lobbying efforts such as killing COOL and supporting unfair trade agreements.
Finally, the checkoff propaganda makes the claim that imports are needed for addition of lean product in our ground beef. What they omit is the fact that any reprocessing of imported meat qualifies it for a U.S. label. Under these circumstances, U.S. farmers and ranchers are subjected to huge packer/ processor captive supplies and must compete with foreign producers with minute production costs.
When I received the email containing this same material from CBB, I was appalled that my checkoff was attempting to limit my speech to promote their ideology. U.S. cattlemen and women need to assess the logic of their checkoff dollars contributing to their demise through the prevention of domestic product promotion.
Take action: Sign our letter to Congress in support of federal checkoff reform legislation.
This essay will be part of OCM’s March 2017 membership newsletter. To subscribe to our newsletter, please join OCM today.