Saturday, July 08, 2017

Momentum Building to Cast Off USDA Checkoff Marketing Programs

 Last week, a federal court in Montana handed an important victory to opponents of USDA checkoff programs. As I describe in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us, USDA checkoff programs exist for dairy, beef, pork, and poultry, among other foods. They require ranchers and farmers to pay for collective marketing of their products. The USDA argues the mandatory collectivist marketing empowers businesses. Critics disagree. In the Montana case, the federal court granted a preliminary injunction to the plaintiff, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), a nonprofit advocacy group that represents independent ranchers, farmers, and cattlemen. R-CALF argued the USDA Beef Checkoff Program violates the First Amendment because it forces R-CALF members to subsidize speech—specifically, advertising—paid for by the private Montana Beef Council. The U.S. District Court agreed, granting R-CALF a preliminary injunction and barring the Montana Beef Council from using any funds "it collects under the Beef Checkoff Program to fund its advertising campaigns" without prior consent from the farmer or rancher who pays the state beef council..."As a result of the preliminary injunction" issued by the federal court in June, reports the Montana Beef Council, "after assessments are collected from Montana beef producers, if they do not provide prior affirmative consent to the Montana Beef Council, their full assessment will be forwarded to the Cattlemen's Beef Board for general use on national programs and projects." In other words, the federal court didn't declare the beef checkoff program unconstitutional. Rather, it determined that all of the mandatory payment must go to the federal program, unless the payer first consents to the use of funds by the state beef council...Congress is also currently looking at ways it can rein in the silly, wasteful checkoff programs. Earlier this year, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act, to improve the transparency of checkoff programs. "Senator Lee also introduced a far more radical bill, the Voluntary Checkoff Program Participation Act, which would end mandatory participation in checkoff programs entirely," I wrote in a New Food Economy piece last month. The money that currently flows to the entities that manage these checkoff programs—including beef—isn't small potatoes. Estimates show these programs take "approximately $750 million per year from U.S. farmers and ranchers."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It just galls me when foreign beeves are promoted alongside the domestic product. What flabbergasts me even further is that the average producer has no concept of the issues at hand and drools on cue for the nice men.....soapweed