Producer-paid checkoffs help meatpacking lobby sustain COOL fight
Billings, Mont. – Last week, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the American Meat Institute (AMI) and other foreign and domestic meatpacking lobby groups rekindled their ongoing court fight to strike down the United States’ country of origin labeling (COOL) law by filing a petition for a rehearing with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Appeals Court).
On July 29, 2014, eleven seated judges on the Appeals Court upheld the previous decision by the Appeals Court’s smaller panel of three judges that had affirmed the initial ruling by the District Court for the District of Columbia to deny the meatpacking lobby’s request for a preliminary injunction with which to block enforcement of COOL.
The petition asks the Appeals Court for a rehearing of the original 3-judge panel decision as well as a rehearing of the subsequent 11-judge panel’s decision, a decision known by the Latin term, “en banc,” meaning a decision by all the judges on the court.
The NCBA and the NPPC are primary recipients of government-mandated producer payments known as “checkoff dollars.” In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture disclosed in a 2014 report by its Office of Inspector General (OIG) that more than 82% of the NCBA’s total funding is derived from government-mandated checkoff dollars paid by cattle producer. The law requires cattle producers to pay $1 to the beef checkoff program for every head of cattle the producer sells. The U.S. Supreme Court has referred to this payment as a tax. The NCBA receives about $40 million of those tax dollars annually.
“It is a blatant conflict of interest for the NCBA and NPPC, both primary recipients of producer checkoff dollars, to be litigating against the very COOL law that independent U.S. livestock producers and U.S. consumers fought so hard to win in Congress more than a decade ago,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.
“Without their millions of dollars of government-mandated checkoff dollars, neither the NCBA nor the NPPC would likely have the resources to sustain their incessant attack on COOL in our U.S. court system and in Congress,” he added.
The petition filed by the NCBA, NPPC and the other meatpacker groups alleges that Congress did not authorize USDA to require labels that state where the animal from which a meat product is derived was born, where it was raised, and where it was slaughtered when, by doing so, the meatpackers could no longer commingle meat.
Commingling is a term used to describe the meatpackers’ practice of mixing livestock and meat of different origins and then using a catch-all label to describe where the resulting meat may have come from. For example, a commingled label stating “Product of the United States, Canada and Mexico,” could be affixed to meat derived exclusively from an animal that was exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.
Bullard said the meatpacking lobby’s purpose in fighting COOL is to prevent them from having to disclose the true origins of meat to consumers, particularly the exclusive U.S.-origin meat produced by U.S. farmers and ranchers. He said this is because the meatpackers do not want U.S. consumers to begin asking for meat that is born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S., which would interfere with the meatpackers’ practice of sourcing foreign animals and beef at lower cost and selling it in the United States as if it were a domestic product.
“It is a shame that the USDA allows advocacy groups like the NCBA and NPPC to receive millions of dollars of mandatory producer dollars each year to help them fight policies like COOL that are vital to the long-term survivability of independent farmers and ranchers,” commented Bullard.
Last week 36 groups, including R-CALF USA, sent a joint letter to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack urging him to reform the beef checkof program by, for example, prohibiting organizations that engage in policy-oriented activities from receiving mandatory checkoff dollars.
“This reform would effectively prevent checkoff dollars from being used to undermine the interests of the very U.S. farmers and ranchers who are required to contribute to the program,” Bullard concluded.