The beef checkoff program has been the source of some debate in the industry. Most approve of it — 72% in the latest independent survey — and a handful don't. Yet all pay into it, and all benefit.
According to Ron Ward, an economics professor at the University of Florida, for every $1 producers invest in the checkoff, they see a return of more than $5 in prices that are higher than they would otherwise be.
The checkoff program works. I wouldn't invest my personal time into defending it or helping direct its programs if it didn't. But groups like the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) would have you believe they're doing you a favor by trying to rid the industry of its only self-help promotion and research program.
LMA claims that the beef checkoff is unconstitutional, and by their actions they are seeking the program's demise through the judicial system. LMA is forcing the industry to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a frivolous and lengthy legal battle. How is that in my best interest? I contend that money would be better spent promoting my product in this time of record supply.
LMA suggests that its lawsuit is about a producer's right to vote. However, the issue of a producer's right to vote is moot, thanks to LMA.
A federal judge in South Dakota will be determining whether producers have the constitutional right to promote beef through a national, inclusive self-help program. That is what will be decided in LMA's current lawsuit.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) does not oppose a vote. NCBA's members are the ones who requested the provision in the original act specifying the criteria for holding one. The fact is that LMA failed to meet the criteria.
Instead of moving forward after its failed petition drive, LMA is taking a backdoor approach to air its gripes, which takes the fate of the industry out of producers' hands altogether. LMA is not representing producers when its actions take away producer control.
I believe LMA's actions are not in the best interest of producers at all.
They would take away the successful “Beef. It's What's For Dinner.®” advertising program, in addition to information programs designed to maintain consumer confidence in the safety of U.S. beef, in light of prevalent coverage of foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
They would take away efforts to educate doctors, dietitians, teachers and young people on the nutritional benefits of eating beef.
And, they would take away new product development, food safety research and promotional partnerships with leading restaurants.
These are all programs that have contributed to the positive trend in beef demand over the past three years.
I supported the checkoff program when it was created more than 15 years ago, as did LMA. In fact, my mother went door to door in our county soliciting producer support for the checkoff, and it passed in Montana by 87%.
The program has operated the same way all these years — with producer direction and USDA oversight. Why does LMA really want to do away with the program? Why do they now believe they are doing the industry a favor by jeopardizing the equity we've built in “Beef. It's What's for Dinner?”
As a producer and an investor in the checkoff program — LMA, please, don't do me any more favors.
Lynn Cornwell is a beef producer from Glasgow, MT, and president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.