OPINION: In Defense Of Checkoff Programs

John Robison | Vice President of Membership and Communications, NCBA

As fall arrives across the United States, Martin Irby seems determined to engage in one of his favorite pastimes: Working to undermine commodity checkoff programs.

Indeed, the assertions contained in his most recent diatribe are as predictable as fall leaves changing color. Groups like his continually push a false, tired narrative about abusive checkoff programs that harm family farmers and ranchers.

The reality could not be more different. Checkoff programs have delivered huge benefits to agricultural producers by allowing them to pool their resources and engage in industry-wide marketing efforts. These efforts are not nefarious plots made in secret; they are managed according to public, transparent processes with oversight provided by the USDA.

In the beef industry, a committee of elected industry leaders is actively developing the Beef Checkoff budget and program plans. From nutritional studies and food safety research to retail partnerships and foreign marketing, the Beef Checkoff funds critical work that builds consumer demand for beef. Independent research shows these programs result in an $11.20 return on investment for every dollar invested.

The Beef Checkoff’s record of success is one reason why the program continues to enjoy support from three of four cattle producers today. But if producers were unhappy with the results of the Beef Checkoff, they could end it. A new referendum on the program can be held at any time following a request from at least 10 percent of producers.

Sadly, the most vicious and sustained attacks against the Beef Checkoff program and others like it come from outside of the agricultural industry.

Opponents of animal agriculture have been particularly persistent in their attempts to dismantle checkoff programs. These groups long for a day when cattle producers are driven out of business, and they see the Beef Checkoff as standing in their way.

“I think [the checkoff] program definitely increases demand,” declared Bruce Friedrich, co-founder of the Good Food Institute and a leading proponent of shifting away from animal agriculture. He is right. And Irby, Friedrich, and their allies simply do not like that beef producers have found an effective way to promote their products. (Last year per capita meat consumption in America reached an all-time high.)

Faced with these facts, it is hard to contest the benefits of the Beef Checkoff for producers. So Irby regurgitates another frequent criticism of checkoff programs: That contractor organizations use checkoff money as an illegal slush fund. Here again, his allegations fall flat.

When the Beef Checkoff program was created, important safeguards were put in place to ensure fair treatment of all stakeholders. This includes a strict prohibition on using any checkoff dollars to fund lobbying activities.

Checkoff programs are subjected to annual audits to ensure all expenses are used only for projects and other expenses authorized in a budget approved by USDA. USDA also conducts a review of checkoff management practices and internal controls at least once every three years.

It is also critical to note that all Beef Checkoff contractors, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, must compete for funds each year. Crucially, these funds are awarded on a cost-recovery basis. That means the contractor must first carry out the work, then submit a detailed accounting to an independent body (the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, or CBB) for reimbursement. Contractors are only reimbursed for costs incurred if the CBB approves the expense.

Cattle producers have come to expect attacks on the Beef Checkoff from those who oppose our industry and our way of life. They see through vain attempts to divide the beef community and weaken producer-directed programs. And they will not be deterred from using checkoff programs to strengthen the cattle and beef industry for generations to come.

John Robinson is NCBA’s vice president of Membership and Communications.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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