Mandatory COOL & The Checkoff Marry Up

Outrage over the distorting of the intentions of the mandatory country-of-origin (COOL) law supposedly led Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to introduce a bill

Outrage over the distorting of the intentions of the mandatory country-of-origin (COOL) law supposedly led Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to introduce a bill that would modify the beef-checkoff program. Called the “Beef Checkoff Modernization Act of 2008,” the biggest proposed change is it would require at least 30% of checkoff revenues be spent on promoting U.S. beef. This theoretically would be a way to pull U.S.-labeled product into the system and rectify the problems being experienced with mandatory COOL (See “The Chess Game Of Mandatory COOL” elsewhere in this issue).

Of course, the problem with mandatory COOL has always been that it was a red herring; it was just a chess piece in the game between those who felt the changes occurring in the industry represented opportunity and needed to be dealt with proactively, and those who felt these changes represented significant risk and had to be fought. It was about globalization, value-based marketing and a host of other factors simmering between these two segments for quite some time.

So it’s not surprising that the checkoff battle has been resurrected with Tester’s legislation, which also includes the call for a producer referendum every seven years, and to put in place a battle for checkoff dollars between the competing interests.

Perhaps this is the time when the industry needs to take a step back and put an end to this conflict. Without question, both sides have valid points.

The checkoff program has already taken steps to increase access to bidding for checkoff dollars and there’s probably more that can be done. The checkoff is governed by cattlemen, and opinion polls indicate its success in improving beef demand is well understood and supported by the majority of cattlemen. Thus, spending millions of dollars every seven years to validate this is simply a waste of funds.

The checkoff-funding mechanism must be modernized, as well. Inflation has devalued the original impact of the 1986 legislation by at least half the value of each $1 contributed.

It’s not hard to trace back the feud, or the common links with Montana and Tester, the Livestock Marketing Association and R-CALF. Mistakes have been made, powerful individuals have been offended. But this industry can no longer afford this feud.

We have challenges, we have opportunities, and we must resolve these personal and industry differences. Certainly there won’t always be agreement, but there is value in having a democratic process, and immense value in speaking with one voice; the stakes simply are too high to continue this internal vendetta.

Perhaps we’ve all been victims of this vendetta in one form or another, but mandatory COOL and this Tester’s proposal illustrate that it’s vital the industry create its own solutions and not leave it to politicians who don't understand the dynamics involved.

It’s time to stop this vicious cycle. It’s time for cattlemen to let it be known that the industry comes first, and we’re not going to tolerate any more of these games.