Billings, MT | Representatives of the beef industry – the industry that starts when the live cattle raised by America’s farmers and ranchers are delivered to a packing plant for slaughter – and those beef industry representatives are providing testimony to Congress that all is well with the cattle market. They say cattle prices have increased in the face of short cattle supplies and this proves the marketplace is functioning just like a competitive market should.
So, they tell Congress to do nothing. They say don’t let the government get involved in the cattle markets as they don’t want the government involved in their industry at all.
But wait…there’s an exception to their cry for no government involvement. It’s called the mandatory beef checkoff program. The government mandate forces America’s cattle farmers and ranchers to pay about $80 million a year through their $1 per head tax collected when they sell their live cattle.
So, apparently, a government mandated tax is okay, but just don’t let the government get involved in the cattle industry, they say. Now to most folks, this is a contradictory and incongruent position, but it’s gone on for so long that very few pay any attention to it anymore.
Until now! You see, over time people started wondering where all the money went. They could see it went to help corporate fast-food restaurants like Wendy’s, and they saw the major recipients of the beef checkoff program join together to lobby Congress to repeal the popular country of origin labeling law for beef.
And those two things raised some major red flags. So, a group of farm and ranch organizations asked Congress to introduce legislation to make the mandatory beef checkoff program more transparent and more accountable to the farmers and ranchers who are forced to pay into it.
And a bipartisan group of Senators from all over the country: Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), introduced legislation called the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act, S.557, otherwise known as the OFF Act. And there’s a House version too, H.R.1249.
Now the OFF Act recognizes that it wasn’t just the mandatory beef checkoff program that lacked transparency and accountability and that had problems with checkoff contractors attempting to lobby Congress; but also, all the other checkoff programs did too, from the mushroom checkoff to the soybean checkoff, and to the pork checkoff, just to name a few.
So, the OFF Act will put an end to the decades of unaccountability, lack of transparency, and cozy lobbyist relationships in the beef and other checkoff programs.
Now of course the beef industry groups that receive the lion’s share of the government-mandated beef checkoff are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the OFF Act’s passage. They say the OFF Act will put an end to the beef checkoff program, which they say will hurt cattle producers.
Well, none of us are dummies so let’s look at the OFF Act itself and what it does and then everyone can decide if it will end checkoff programs.
The OFF Act establishes restrictions and requirements for checkoff programs:
It prohibits lobbying groups from receiving checkoff funds.
It prohibits conflicts of interest, anticompetitive activity, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices.
It prohibits acts that may be disparaging to other commodities.
It requires records that provide an accounting of all checkoff expenditures.
It requires the publication of budgets and disbursements of funds.
And it requires the USDA Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office to conduct audits of the checkoff programs.
You see, nowhere in the bill is there language to end the checkoffs. Instead, the language will improve and update the checkoffs so they are more likely to accomplish the purpose of the government mandated program.
The provision in the OFF Act that causes those who have been receiving millions of checkoff dollars the most heartburn is the language that prohibits lobbying groups from receiving any more money.
But think of this: It makes little sense that the money collected from cattle farmers and ranchers must first be passed through a lobbying-oriented middleman on its way to performing the important functions of beef promotion and research. Obviously, lobbying organizations like R-CALF USA and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association or NCBA are inherently biased toward the particular interests of our respective members, and this bias has no place in a government-mandated program created to benefit every cattle rancher, regardless of their political ideals.
So, the next time you hear the cry to get the government out of the cattle business, consider it for what it is…it’s a self-serving way for organizations that are receiving millions in government-mandated funds to preserve their subsidized empires.
That cry is kind of like a cradlesong, the intent of which is to put you to sleep.
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R-CALF USA’s weekly opinion/commentary educates and informs both consumers and producers about timely issues important to the U.S. cattle industry and rural America.
Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) is the largest producer-only trade association in the United States. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. Visit www.r-calfusa.com or call 406-252-2516 for more information.