Letter to the Editor: Beef Checkoff working for producers

Farm Forum

As a South Dakota cattle producer and one who has held a number of volunteer leadership positions at both the state and national level, I can say without a doubt that producers nationwide are well-served by their Beef Checkoff Program. The checkoff is led by producers, for producers, to increase beef demand and maintain beef’s image with consumers. It is incumbent on us all to make sure that is happening, and I know it is.

Dozens of Beef Checkoff Program efforts – including successful reinforcement of beef’s positive role in the Federal Dietary Guidelines – have helped build demand and strengthened our industry’s image with consumers. The checkoff’s recent defense of beef in the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which assisted in causing the World Health Organization to take an unprecedented step back on negative recommendations, is another great example. As is the development of new value-added beef products, such as the flat iron steak, which has added hundreds of dollars of value to each beef carcass marketed. These are the results that back the Checkoff’s return on investment of $11.20 for every dollar cattle producers like you and I contribute.

Instead of looking at these recent successes that we can all agree on, some want to look at the recent downturn in the market and try to fit the causes to their policy position. The fact is the markets are cyclical and this recent downturn was a result of dozens of factors. For instance, there was the stronger dollar making U.S. exports less financially attractive overseas, increased volumes of pork and chicken following PEDv and avian influenza, and losses in the Japanese market due to Australia’s bi-lateral free trade agreement which gives them preferential access to that market. What did not factor into this downturn is the status of mandatory country of origin labeling.

Every reputable study to date has shown that mandatory country of origin labeling had no impact on beef demand or price. The reality is, it was a cost to the industry without benefit, and following the resolution of the WTO case brought by Canada and Mexico, mandatory COOL was about to cost the U.S. economy in excess of $1 billion per year in retaliatory tariffs. These tariffs would not only have hit U.S. beef, they would have also impacted a wide range of agricultural and manufactured products.

Moreover, retaliation would have threatened two of our best trade relationships. Canada and Mexico have consistently been two of our largest beef export destinations, accounting for around $2 billion in beef exports per year. Congress clearly saw the writing on the wall and did the right thing in overwhelmingly repealing mandatory country of origin labeling.

That doesn’t change my position on labeling. Like most cattle producers nationwide, I support voluntary industry-led labeling efforts. These programs give consumers the information they are looking for and reward producers with premiums for meeting that demand. These programs do not violate our trade agreements and do not add cost indiscriminately across the industry.

These policy positions, however, have nothing to do with the Beef Checkoff Program, which is focused on funding efforts to increase demand for beef. As one of the 79 percent of beef producers who voted in favor of the Beef Checkoff Program in a 1987 referendum, I strongly supported initiation of the $1-per-head program to increase beef demand through research, education and promotion. And like the 76 percent who said they supported the program in a late 2015 survey, I still do. It’s an inexpensive way to reach out to consumers and let them know the benefits of including great-tasting beef in a healthy, balanced diet.

The Beef Checkoff Program is an industry self-help program directed by beef producers who care enough about their industry to volunteer their time identifying ways to improve consumer perceptions of and demand for their products. It has worked well for 30 years, and independent research shows it continues to return way more than it costs.