I’ve been reading and talking to people all week, trying to figure out a way to responsibly discuss the latest attacks on the checkoff without getting too personal. I was having a hard time figuring out how to be accurate without appearing to attack the character of the individuals involved. With that said, here’s a little background.
The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), which sued the national checkoff operation last week, has always opposed the program. OCM has also always despised the mainstream cattlemen’s groups, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, that embrace modern ag techniques and/or espouse free enterprise and the belief that the government’s role is to ensure a level playing field.
Closer Look: OCM, HSUS Go After Checkoff In Court
One of the funniest debates I ever heard involved two cattlemen arguing over which activist organization was least representative of its name. The contenders included groups like Green Peace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), Physicians for Responsible Medicine, and about six others. But the group that won the day was OCM, based on quotes from its leadership that indicated the group really didn’t care so much about competitive markets as ensuring that they could choose the winners.
But OCM doesn’t have the money or the staff resources to attack widely supported mainstream cattlemen groups and their positions. So OCM chose last week to publicly announce its alliance with HSUS, an activist group widely known as adamantly opposed to the existence of the livestock industry. HSUS’s positions are not only widely known, but its actions clearly demonstrate its commitment to eliminating modern livestock production.
But despite having hundreds of lawyers at its disposal and a budget that’s 30 times larger than groups like NCBA, HSUS knows it can’t destroy the beef industry without help from within. Just as HSUS has embraced partnerships with other radical ag groups that oppose mainstream industry policy, a partnership with OCM gives HSUS a level of supposed credibility.
Another HSUS tactic has been to create “ag councils” in several states, with the idea of putting a producer face to its attempts to garner more influence from consumers and government. The results have been incredibly effective, and HSUS is likely to continue to utilize a producer face any time it can to mask its attacks on the industry.
Industry Resource Page: Animal Activist Groups
The OCM lawsuit seeks an injunction on the allocation of checkoff funds to NCBA as a contractor, based on the claim that checkoff dollars are being used to lobby. The suit is based over the recent audits that had a correction of less than $300,000. To be sure, that is a sizable amount, but most of the discrepancy was due to accounting changes and practices. The amount actually is less than 0.001% of the money accounted for; conversely, prior audits had found similar discrepancies that resulted in the checkoff organization writing checks to NCBA to settle accounts.
The bottom line is that nobody on either side of the aisle believes that the firewall between policy and promotion has been broken, or that any attempt was ever made to do so. In fact, most people express more frustration about the amount of capital, time and effort spent on trying to ensure that these claims are baseless, and the over-cautious nature of both sides, when it comes to utilizing checkoff dollars.
Because previous attacks on the checkoff have failed, and with producer approval of the program and its management remaining extremely high, the only alternative for detractors of the checkoff and NCBA is to go to the courts. Most everyone seems confident that the court case, while expensive and time consuming, won’t result in any changes to the checkoff. And I have to believe that HSUS and OCM are also aware of the likely outcome.
OCM and HSUS understand that even victory in court would do nothing to change NCBA’s policy or its lobbying efforts; it would result only in reducing the industry’s ability to effectively build beef demand. HSUS wants to mine the credibility of a “producer” organization, while OCM hopes to emerge as a conduit for the money and resources of HSUS and other anti-livestock groups that want a producer face for their causes.
They believe they can damage NCBA’s reputation in the process. More importantly, however, they hope to create an issue to keep interest and money flowing to the anti-NCBA groups that were created and fueled by mandatory country-of-origin labeling and the failed GIPSA livestock marketing rule.
It’s been a struggle to maintain this movement without hot-button issues to drive donations. OCM, like other anti-establishment groups, needs to invigorate the anti-NCBA movement and keep dollars flowing to its cause. But there aren’t many producer groups comfortable with the idea of taking money from groups like HSUS.