As an appointee to the 106-member Cattlemen’s Beef Board, I often wonder if we are spending your beef checkoff dollars in the best interest of beef promotion.
To begin this examination of our commitment to 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 beefs position in the market place.”
Let’s begin with expanding consumer demand.
A recent independent consumer poll conducted by the Consumer Federation of America found 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.
However on July 8, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Board, 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. 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.
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 firewall that separates checkoff and policy activities. However the bottom line is 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.
For the next piece of the puzzle, let’s examine our role in strengthening beef’s position in the marketplace. This spring, we released the results of a two-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 inhouse 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.
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. I am afraid we have struck out on our mission statement and our commitment to cattlemen.
This is not necessarily due to a nondedicated CBB board of directors, but more often the result of the board being led to the watering trough by a contractor driven by foreign and domestic corporate interests.
For comments on our performance or to reclaim your beef checkoff, you may find contact information at www.beefboard.org.
(The author is a third-generation beef producer from northwestern South Dakota.)