R-CALF: USMEF unlawful use of checkoff funds against COOL
November 15, 2013
In a strongly worded complaint filed Monday with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG), R-CALF USA accuses the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) of unlawfully using Beef Checkoff Program funds to lobby Congress to weaken or eliminate country of origin labeling (COOL).
United States cattle producers are federally mandated to contribute $1 to the Beef Checkoff Program for every head of cattle they sell. This generates approximately $81 million each year and the USDA is responsible for ensuring that producers' mandatory contributions are lawfully expended for research and promotion of beef. The law prohibits Beef Checkoff funds from being used 'in any manner" to lobby Congress.
The USMEF, a major recipient of Beef Checkoff Program funds, however, sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to change the COOL statute.
The complaint states that the majority of USMEF's annual funding is provided by the federal government, including more than $39 million from the Beef Checkoff Program, other commodity checkoff programs, and USDA grant programs.
Attached to the group's complaint is an Oct. 29, 2013 letter that the USMEF and other groups that oppose COOL sent to congressional leaders of both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House agriculture committees. The USMEF letter urges the members of the 2013 Farm Bill Conference Committee to change the COOL law.
According to R-CALF USA, the prohibition against Beef Checkoff Program funds from being used "in any manner" means checkoff funds cannot be used to subsidize any expenses, including the salaries of any USMEF employee that was involved in first formulating the decision to lobby against COOL and then in the execution of that decision as manifested by the letter that directly lobbied Congress to change the COOL statute.
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The complaint further states: "The attached letter is dispositive proof that USMEF – a recipient of Beef Checkoff Program Funds, other commodity checkoff funds, and other USDA grants – is directly involved in lobbying Congress for the purpose of weakening or eliminating the COOL statute – a statute widely supported by U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers and U.S. consumers. We believe the USMEF's action is not only a clear conflict of interest, but also a clear violation of the law.
"The evidence shows that the USMEF is exploiting hard-working, independent U.S. cattle producers by unlawfully using producers' dollars to enhance USMEF's reputation thereby enabling USMEF to more effectively lobby against the producers' interests and for the USMEF's self-interests. The USMEF has demonstrated not only a wanton disregard for the law, but also a callous contempt for hard-working U.S. farmers and ranchers."
In its complaint, the group asks the U.S. Department of Justice, USDA and USDA OIG to:
1. Immediately investigate the USMEF's unlawful use of Beef Checkoff Program funds to lobby against COOL.
2. Suspend the USMEF as a contractor of the Beef Checkoff Program.
3. Officially notify the 2013 Farm Bill conferees that an investigation is underway regarding the unlawful lobbying against COOL by the USMEF.
4. Prosecuted, to the fullest extent of the law, the USMEF for exploiting U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers and for violating their trust.