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AFF Sentinel-Vol 20#08-Puzzling Politics

If It's Not Broke, WE Have to Fix It

Steve Dittmer | AFF Sentinel

Colorado Springs, CO

Originally sent to subscribers 02/28/23

Politics is a strange game sometimes.

Well, most of the time.

Like, how does a couple of usually smart, common sense senators decide to team up with a couple of very leftist, absolutely know-nothing-about-agriculture senators to attack a non-taxpayer funded entity that has brought more good to agriculture than any other set of programs?

Makes no sense on the surface -- or any other way that we’ve been able to fathom.

Yet in actual fact, it was a couple of years ago that we sat in on a video session with Sen Mike Lee (R-Ut) and he didn’t even understand a fundamental basic of the checkoff system. He thought taxpayers were funding the agriculture commodity checkoffs.

We can somewhat understand Sens. Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma) joining in the checkoff attack. They’ve made no secret of the fact that they don’t like American agriculture and know better how to fix it. Booker has made a comprehensive proposal to overhaul agriculture that basically destroys the most efficient system producing the most high quality and safest food on the planet in favor of some idealistic vision of agriculture as it was decades ago. His ideas would create supply chain problems like we’ve never seen and escalate prices in a fashion to create starvation worldwide.

In contrast to the checkoffs paid for, and run by, the producers paying for them, Warren’s efforts to create a consumer protection bureau accountable to no one is being challenged at the Supreme Court level right now. She crafted an agency with federal powers, with no accountability to Congress and a separate source of funding -- the Federal Reserve -- not Congressional authority. Yet she wants to “reform” a self-help system of commodity checkoffs that also has a separate source of funding from Congress -- the people that produce the food.

What a concept.

Booker and Warren don’t like something like the checkoff because it’s not a government agency they can bully and control.

Like most bills, this one has a misleading title, “Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2023,” introduced by Sen. Lee, Booker, Rand Paul (R-Ky) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Dina Titus (D-NV) on the House side but no text is yet available, only a fact sheet from Lee.

In fact, the sheet from Lee’s office trying to recruit more sponsors cites several examples of great promotional campaigns developed by commodity checkoff groups, including “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.”

Yet it claims some checkoff programs have “a reputation for unscroupulous [sic] behavior.” Then they cite an example of unauthorized bonuses paid to subcontractors of a grain checkoff, resolved and re-paid through normal audits, amounting to $302,000 out of the $528 million/ year raised by all the checkoffs (2009 revenue data cited).

This example and some travel expense misallocations of travel expenses later repaid were all the “dirt” they could come up with.

But the implication that there is not enough oversight is patently false. Not only has there always been audits and USDA oversight checking to make sure things were run properly but for beef, there was a recent multi-year process of re-reviewing all those procedures. There were specific moves to codify the safeguards already practiced to assured adherence to the enabling legislation, pre-approval for messaging and accountability up and down the line. Lawyers for R-CALF did their best to find something awry or unconstitutional and multiple courts, including SCOTUS, shot them down.

And in typical fashion, R-CALF, as OCM has done also, managed to rack up big legal bills for mainstream cattlemen like NCBA members to defend the checkoff, all for no good purpose beyond harassment.

In fact, the checkoffs long-time legal counsel said the last series of court precedents basically established a set of legal principles opponents could never surmount in future court proceedings.

That means, like a lot of other industries and citizens, the only fear we have to fear is Congress itself.

On cue, enter -- we love the implications of NCBA’s description of them -- as the “collective” group of bill sponsors trying at “reforming” the checkoffs. They are a collective, a group with socialist intent, attacking a free market, volunteer system with only the necessary, basic government oversight as opposed to the socialist, government-run vision Booker and Warren have of every industry on earth. NCBA points out that both Booker and Warren have gotten support from animal welfare groups, factions advocating the elimination of animal agriculture.

And what Sen. Mike Lee and Rand Paul are doing associating with those two and this effort is nothing but a smear on their reputations as representatives of liberty, freedom and free markets. These are the kind of things that give “bipartisanship” a bad name.

As if that wasn’t enough, a couple of disgruntled fringe groups, especially R-CALF -- spent roughly a year trying to gather a small percentage of the nation’s cattle producers to petition for a referendum on the beef checkoff -- and didn’t manage to eve get close. Cattlemen can be a skeptical bunch but the beef checkoff has proven itself invaluable to the demand for beef over and over.

In fact, R-CALF was in the forefront years ago of those claiming not only was the checkoff worthless and unfair to them but opposed beef exports as unimportant and compromising to their efforts to stop beef imports. Yet beef export values are approaching $500/hd. on fed animals. The long-term vision of the beef checkoff supporting the USMEF’s efforts in expanding beef exports around the entire globe certainly refutes the efforts of R-CALF, other fringe groups and this “collective” to damage the checkoff.

Something else that gets little attention. Senators and representatives get paid. Government bureaucrats get paid. But there are thousands of cattlemen and cattlewomen who have put in hundreds of thousands of hours of unpaid time, volunteering solid, rational, intelligent work to advance the cause of beef demand on state beef councils and the CBB and predecessor groups. They have worked to better the industry, for us and for generations to come.

Cassie Fish, an astute observer who writes “The Beef” column for the Consolidated Beef Producers, remarked that we’re at a point where records are being broken or equaled for fed cattle, live cattle futures and boxed beef while packers are making around $100 again and feeder cattle futures are catching up. One of those rare times when all segments of the industry are either making money or getting close. And it’s as if this Congressional “collective” said, “We’ve got to do something about this.”

With USDA contemplating how to spoil the party with some ill-advised moves to wreck the cattle marketing system, we hope they take note. This is not the time to mess everything up. Cattlemen have waited years for leverage to come their way, some of them have weathered the drought and tough times, some of them have bit the dust, resulting in tightened cattle supplies. Their checkoff dimes and quarters and dollars have been invested for nearly 100 years to get consumer demand worldwide to this point. We don’t need a “collective” of Congressmen nor USDA bureaucrats to ruin things now.

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