Checkoff dollars are used to promote beef
St. Onge, S.D.
As I read Mr. Meyer’s comments in the Tri-State Livestock News I was stunned by the assertions made. I am a rancher, but I am also a livestock dealer, a feeder and a beef producer. I pay into the Beef Checkoff, and I invest in the future of our industry. I am proud of the work that the Checkoff does on behalf of producers nationwide and I am proud of the time invested by those who serve on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the South Dakota Beef Industry Council. For over two decades the Beef Checkoff has been working to build demand and long before that, the Federation of State Beef Councils has done the same on a state by state scale.
The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and State Beef Councils that direct how producer dollars are used are not allowed to engage in policy decision, and Checkoff dollars cannot be used to lobby or promote policy issues. That is why I was at first confused that a member of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board would be weighing in so heavily on a policy matter from his position. Country of Origin Labeling or COOL is strictly a policy issue. It has been law since the 2002 Farm Bill.
I am aware of the Consumer Federation of America study which found that 87 percent of consumers prefer origin information on their food. A similar study done by Kansas State University also found overwhelmingly that consumers were not aware origin information already existed on meat and that in fact they showed no greater preference for an origin label than they did for other similarly informational labels. It does not surprise me that consumers want to know more information, when asked, but who would say they want to know less? To strap the entire supply chain with the burden of record keeping for a program that yields no benefit seems senseless.
Let’s face it, COOL is not a food safety issue or an effective marketing program; it is a trade barrier, plain and simple. Beef exports to Canada and Mexico were just shy of $2 billion last year, representing our two largest trading partners. Exports to the Pacific Rim continue to rise. My family has been producing beef via grass for over a century, and we all have equal right to be proud of the product we raise. There are programs that cater to us, like Certified Angus Beef and Safeway’s Ranchers Reserve. There are state specific branded programs and in the past even a Born and Raised in the USA program, if you want to take advantage of a marketing program, do it. But if you care to ignite a trade war, please do not drag the Checkoff and other producers into it.
The producer dollars we send into the Checkoff are building demand for beef. I saw this first hand recently on the NCBA’s Young Cattlemen’s Conference. One of the biggest issues we face to consumer demand is that younger generations do not know how to prepare beef at home. The culinary team at NCBA, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, is not only working with restaurants and chefs to properly prepare and serve beef, but they also have a test kitchen with the types and models of ovens most commonly purchased by today’s average family. They test various recipes and methods of cooking to discover what the average person needs to know to make beef great. The nutrition teams work with dieticians and universities to ensure beef continues to get a fair shake when it comes to nutritional guidelines. And the Federation is at work, coordinating Checkoff programs in States that have a high number of consumers but low number of producers with States like ours that have fewer consumers but greater Checkoff collections.
The Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards (URMIS) issue is a red herring, used solely to bash NCBA for its work on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. It’s a program developed back in 1973 – well before the mandatory checkoff began – to help consumers and retailers better understand and label meat cuts. Now the pork industry has misused it, and somehow NCBA is to blame?
As I understand it, beef program managers have objected strongly to the use of the beef names. But let’s put the blame for the pork cut name fiasco where it belongs, with the pork industry and its checkoff leaders. (In my opinion, if they want to purloin beef’s cut names for their own marketing campaigns, I believe consumers will see right through it.)
The beef industry is large and complex. While there is certainly room for competition and difference of opinion we all have to work together. It is easy to vilify those aspects that we do not work with, but without them, the industry grinds to a halt.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News