The 2019 beef checkoff budget is out, and global meatpacking corporations and their industry lobbying groups are the winners once again while American family farmers and ranchers continue to be taxed to fund their own demise.
Under federal law, farmers of certain commodities (including pork, eggs, beef, and corn) are required to pay a portion of their sales into checkoff programs. These mandatory fees are intended to be used by the U.S. government to research and promote demand for those products. Well-known examples of past checkoff-funded advertising campaigns are “Pork. The Other White Meat,” “The Incredible, Edible Egg,” and “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.” Checkoff programs collect tens of millions of dollars from America’s farmers and ranchers every year.
As it has since 1996, the lion’s share of the beef checkoff program funding will go to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), an industry trade and lobbying group. Checkoff funds make up approximately 75% of NCBA’s budget. NCBA claims to be the voice of U.S. cattle producers while lobbying against their interests (for example, in opposing Country of Origin Labeling and the GIPSA rules). Without the beef checkoff funds, NCBA would not be able to build this influence considering it represents less than 3% of cattle producers.
How does NCBA get away with this money grab? Through its Federation Division it controls 50% of the Beef Promotion Operating Committee, which has the sole discretion in who gets the money. But wait to see what is to come. NCBA will capture an additional 10 million checkoff dollars through its pay-to-play scheme as it requires Qualified State Beef Councils to buy seats on its Federation Division.
How will NCBA spend the money? With little if any government oversight and transparency, who really knows. For over seven years, OCM has been fighting to get to the truth about how beef checkoff funds are being spent. In 2010, an audit of the equivalent of just nine days of beef checkoff program spending found more than $200,000 in improper spending by the NCBA, including the use of tax dollars for lobbying and overseas vacations. USDA then performed a full audit of the program but did not release the full details to the public, claiming it would cause embarrassment for USDA and cause fracturing of the beef industry if the details were made public. We have been fighting the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), and now NCBA which has intervened, in federal court over a Freedom of Information Act request since 2014 to see the spending details of these federal tax dollars.
OCM will continue to fight for the truth so that these abuses can be stopped and we can finally have a beef checkoff program that works for the hardworking U.S. cattle producers.