USCA Statement on the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act
April 5, 2019
(WASHINGTON) – The United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA) fully supports the Beef Checkoff Program for the value it delivers in promoting beef to consumers. The program is strongest when U.S. cattle producers are engaged and empowered.
However, we recognize that of the twenty-two congressionally authorized programs, none are more consistently under threat than the Beef Checkoff Program (Beef Checkoff).
These attacks are frequently staged by outsiders, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who have publicly stated that by reigning in the effectiveness of the checkoff programs, they can better control how these dollars are spent in promoting animal agriculture.
The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (S.935) introduced by U.S. Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) would address undue influence within checkoff programs by lobbying organizations. The legislation is supported by the Humane Society of the United States.
Specifically, the legislation would:
Stop federally mandated checkoff dollars from being transferred to parties that seek to influence government policies or action relating to agriculture issues.
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Enforce the prohibition against conflicts of interest in contracting and all other decision-making operations of the checkoff program.
Stop federally mandated funds from being used for anticompetitive programs or from being spent to disparage another commodity in the marketplace.
Increase transparency of the individual boards' actions by shedding light on how federal checkoff funds are spent and the purpose of their expenditures.
Require audits of each program every five years to ensure their activities are in compliance with the law.
While USCA is encouraged by the legislation's attempt to curb abuses of checkoff dollars, the OFF Act does not specifically address the necessary enhancements and changes within the Beef Checkoff Program that must be implemented for the program to remain effective and operate efficiently for all U.S. cattle producers.
Further, the bill goes too far in naming all twenty-two checkoff programs, many of which do not share the problems which plague the Beef Checkoff Program.
A successful modernization of the Beef Checkoff Program would include:
Separation of the Federation: The Federation must be separated from a policy organization. The Federation should be a standalone group. Any funds allocated to the national effort should go before the beef operating committee (as it operates as a joint committee).
Improved Efficiencies in Enabling Change: A streamlined and improved mechanism for making changes to the beef checkoff must be achieved. Any changes to the Checkoff must be done via feedback from the entire cattle industry. Representation must be improved, via such efforts as an industry working group.
Direct Contracts: The Cattlemen's Beef Board must be allowed to contract directly with vendors, institutions, and private companies versus being required to contract through industry group organizations for services and programs. This will improve efficiencies and costs within the Checkoff.
Several years ago, the pork industry made these kinds of changes and today has a 91 percent approval rating and a $25 to $1 return on investment. The approval rating of the Beef Checkoff is around 70 percent and has a return on investment of $11.2 to $1. Failing to address the unique needs of the Beef Checkoff Program will result in a program that is not be strong enough to defend itself against attacks from the outside—and will continue to minimize the voices of our own producer stakeholders.
The Beef Checkoff program is currently missing the mark on how to connect with millennials and the incoming Generation Z. These groups are the current, and next set, of consumers and as producers we must be looking at new and innovative ways in reaching this key demographic. An example of great checkoff work was at this year's SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin brought thousands of pounds of cheese to the largest annual gathering of 'innovators' and media industry representatives. The result was plenty of media coverage of the event and attendees leaving with a positive dairy experience.
USCA strongly encourages the consideration of the above necessary amendments to the Beef Checkoff program before Congress is forced to consider sweeping changes to all of our nation's commodity checkoffs. These programs provide much needed support to our nation's agricultural producers and should be rightfully managed.