Letter to the Editor: Striking out the Beef Checkoff
As an appointee to the 106 member Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) I often wonder if I/we are spending your beef checkoff dollars in the best interest of beef promotion. To begin this examination of our commitment to our fellow producers of investing your money wisely (all $40 million), let us review the Beef Board mission statement, “The Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion & Research Board is dedicated to improving producer profitability’ expanding consumer demand for beef and strengthening beef’s position in the market place.” These three areas of concern are very straight forward and complement each other so to piece the puzzle together let’s begin with expanding consumer demand.
A very recent independent consumer poll conducted by the Consumer Federation of America documented that 87 percent of consumers prefer information concerning origin and production of the food they feed their families. Farmers and ranchers also fought hard to establish Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) in 2002 to address consumer choices for a safe and wholesome product. However, on July 8, of this year, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Board (NCBA) in conjunction with seven other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against USDA for its role in defending COOL in the eyes of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Keep in mind that two of the fellow plaintiffs were foreign organizations who are not only challenging U.S. producer and consumer rights to COOL but also attacking U.S. sovereignty. Also keep in mind that the NCBA is the major contractor for the CBB and derives nearly 82 percent of its revenue from the beef checkoff. Yes, you will hear screams of a monetary fire wall which separates checkoff and policy activities. However the bottom line is still that over $32 million checkoff dollars are invested annually in those offices and personnel who also work for the contractor that would rather promote corporate profits over producer family livelihoods and consumer choices. In reality we are indirectly spending your checkoff dollars to include your contractor in a lawsuit against you and your right to identify and label your product. Checkoff dollars are supporting a contractor who places packer profits above consumer choices for a safe and wholesome diet for their families? Does this sound like we are expanding consumer demand or lining packer pockets with your hard earned dollars?
For the next piece of the puzzle let’s examine our role in strengthening beef’s position in the market place. This spring we released the results of a 2-year project to rename beef cuts in conjunction with the pork industry. This was part of a $2.6 million authorization request by NCBA of which 83 percent were implementation fees for in house implementation by NCBA. This aggressive NCBA request included ULTRA or Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards Labeling Term Review Application which when simplified helped to create generic meat names with pork. Names like New York Strip Pork Chop which the pork industry ads are proclaiming as “a cheaper cut than beef.” Don’t blame the Operating Committee as most were never informed of the details of this joint attempt to standardize protein cuts for what some believe as adding more value to lessor valued species! Whatever the reason it worked as pork is laughing all the way to the bank and cattlemen are staring at pickled cows feet. Are we strengthening beef’s position in the markets yet?
Examining the final piece of the mission statement, “improving producer profits,” is directly related to the first two pieces. However if we look at the motives behind our contractor involvement in the lawsuit to make it convenient and profitable for foreign product to be included in the USA label then perhaps we have improved foreign producer profits. Maybe that answers the question of why each morning we wake up to 33 fewer producers in the U.S. along with a dwindling cow herd equal to 1952.
To summarize our performance of investing your hard earned dollars wisely; I am afraid we have struck out on our mission statement and our commitment to cattlemen. This is not necessarily due to a non-dedicated CBB board of directors but more often the result of the board being lead to the watering trough by a contractor driven by foreign and domestic corporate interests. A contractor which due to its grandfathered status under the Act and Order believes they know what’s best for you and your money. A contractor which refuses to display pride for USA Beef, USA Cattlemen, the U.S. Constitution and all U.S. Veterans.
For comments on our performance or to reclaim your beef checkoff you may find contact information at http://www.beefboard.org.