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AFF Sentinel V20#43-Lee, Animal Activists, Fringe Liberal Ag Groups Try Checkoff Sabotage-Part II

Underhanded Work Makes Strange, Distasteful Bedfellows


Steve Dittmer | AFF Sentinel

Colorado Springs, CO

Originally sent to subscribers 09/16/23

Edi. Note: Last time we began backgrounding you on the efforts of Sen. Lee, other lawmakers, OCM, Farm Action and animal activist groups to slip a bill hobbling the beef checkoff into the Farm Bill.


America’s farmers and ranchers have always had positive reputations and deserved credibility with American consumers, indeed, around the world. That is why the anti-animal agriculture groups want to hobble their ability to tell their story.


The areas of concern addressed in the bill are already contained in enabling laws and regulations the checkoffs operate under, especially regarding records, audits, transparency, separation from lobbying groups and non-disparagement of other commodities.


But legislators’ characterizations of the checkoffs can be outright fabrications, reflecting their ignorance of the checkoffs and sympathies with industry adversaries. One sponsor of the House version has said the bill would close a “loophole” that allows checkoffs to use taxpayer funds. That is not true.


 “Industrial agriculture is sucking up family farmers’ hard-earned dollars and using those funds against the interests of the very producers it was designed to represent,” Rep. Nancy Mace, (D-NV) said.


That’s interesting, as the big corporations involved in the beef industry like the nation’s beef packers are paying into the checkoff, not sucking money out of it.


Mace’s comments regarding the influence of “agriculture lobbyists” and prohibiting “anticompetitive behavior” are echoed over and over by opposition lawmakers and activists. The lawmakers are mostly urban lawmakers with no experience in business or agriculture, who somehow think it’s okay for an auto manufacturer to contract with suppliers for parts meeting strict specifications and time tables but not okay for a packer to contract for a supply of cattle that will grade and yield carcasses that consumers want.


That is part of value-added marketing and certain cattlemen hate it. It requires more management, more investment in genetics, more exact marketing and, like many laws of economics, economies of scale enter into the equations. But the bottom line is that the system cattlemen, working with packers, retailers and foodservice operators have evolved, has resulted in the highest, most consistent quality at affordable prices for consumers. That is part of what anti-animal agriculture activists hate. They don’t want consumers liking and buying beef.


As for lobbying, all checkoff laws already prohibit checkoff funds from being used for lobbying and the bill’s language is directly aimed at checkoffs that efficiently rent offices in the same building or share staff with other cattlemen’s groups who do lobby at the state and national level. Funding firewalls exist and have been enforced. But the notion still exists in some cattlemen’s heads, transferred to lawmakers “against” lobes, that because some cattlemen don’t agree with them politically, they or their separate organizations should be prohibited from commodity promotion while wearing a different hat.


Marty Irby, of Animal Wellness Action, said checkoffs are “under fire” because of their “damaging anti-competitive practices that have bankrupted millions of American farmers.”


“Beef It’s What’s for Dinner,” fighting the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to keep beef in the government nutrition guidelines, preserving value-added beef programs, funding beef nutrition and heart research -- those kinds of things have put “millions” of producers out of business?


Much of this opposition to checkoffs from claimed “many” cattlemen is simply put, a preference for livestock auctions, live finished cattle auctions, and carcass auctions at the meat level. They want to prohibit the innovations cattlemen working with universities, packers, purveyors, retailers and foodservice operators have pioneered to improve the product for consumers. Animal activists are just parroting those in cattlemen’s opposition groups to exploit an opportunity to damage the livestock production chain. They know little of which they speak.


The commodity checkoffs like the beef checkoff have been overseen by the Agricultural Marketing Service division of USDA, an agency that knows agriculture and understands the goals of the checkoff.  This bill requires the Comptroller General of the U.S., the head of the Government Accountability Office, to audit the checkoffs and make suggestions on how they ought to be run.


The bill, to the uninitiated, might sound as if it is needed. But all of those concerns have been handled in enabling legislation and regulations years ago. For the beef checkoff, further codifying of procedures that had already been followed has been done in the last couple years. But we don’t need extraneous bills to deal with in Congress. There is already too much to handle.


But as in any legislation, the devil can be in the details. Government agencies take license to do all kinds of things to make life miserable for the private sector. 


Definitions in legislation can totally change the effects. Take contractors, for example. Detractors want to eliminate the longstanding contractors with previous track records of effectiveness and integrity for political reasons. Contractors who have board members who also serve on political organizations could be ruled out by definition. So could contractors that share office buildings, with board members that attend meetings at political organizations, staffers who might work or do freelance work for both political and checkoff state or national groups might be excluded.


An agency or a lawmaker with political intent might prevail on an agency to rule out any group or firm that has contracted with the checkoff previously.


The industry has plenty of experience with federal agencies armed with what they perceived as a mandate and authority to wreak havoc on an industry. Talk to ranchers and farmers who have dealt with overzealous bureaucrats at the EPA, Interior, BLM, etc.


Next time: Some of the bill’s language and what it really means.


Contact info for House members:


Contact info for Senate members:


Contact info for Sen. Mike Lee:


Next time: More background, more agendas, more checkoff facts.


 


Edi. Note: the pic below looked so good, we had to keep it again, (courtesy beef Check off).


 

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