Why Does Taxpayer Money go to a Big Meat Lobbying Group?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
(graphic: High Country News)

Each year a trade group representing the beef industry collects more than $40 million in tax dollars to promote its agenda and battle political opponents. It’s an unusual arrangement, considering that most lobbying organizations rely on private funding to fund their activities.


It all began in the 1980s, during efforts to help the plight of farmers who were struggling to stay in business. Legislation adopted by Congress that decade created the beef “check-off” program, in which cattle ranchers were forced to pay $1 per head to state beef councils. These councils in turn give money to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which winds up distributing around $40 million annually to promoting the beef industry.


The recipient of this promotional money is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), which buys ads to encourage Americans to eat more beef and pays lobbyists to fight off efforts by animal rights groups and others advocating policies the NCBA opposes.


The NCBA has over time lost many of its cattlemen members, “while more and more complain that the NCBA presses for policies that undermine their own way of life and the public’s interest by favoring large packers and other corporate giants,” according to Siddhartha Mahanta at the Washington Monthly. Four large corporations—Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS, and National Beef Packing—now control 85% of the meat-packing business.


Mahanta reports that the organization’s membership has declined markedly, from 40,000 in 1994 to 26,000 today. As a result, more than 90% of its funding comes not from membership dues, but public money. Without the check-off money, rancher Steve Charter said, the NCBA “would have a pretty tough time keeping going.”


Its lobbying activities include fighting proposals that are overwhelmingly supported by the American people. For instance, the NCBA has joined a lawsuit involving other trade groups representing meat-packers seeking to block the USDA’s plan requiring the industry to label meat being sold so consumers know if it is coming from within the U.S. or other countries.


This strategy runs counter to what most consumers want. A 2013 poll by the Consumer Federation of America revealed that 87% of respondents favored mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef, and 90% support a mandate for food producers to disclose whether the beef was processed domestically.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Big Beef (by Siddhartha Mahanta, Washington Monthly)

Beef Checkoff Feud Exposes Divide within Cattle Industry (by Peggy Lowe, Harvest Public Media)

Michael Callicrate v. U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S. District Court, Kansas) (pdf)


Barn 5 years ago
Wow, Noel, you really need to get your facts straight. First of all, it's not taxpayer money; it's $1-per-head from cattle producers selling their animals, to be used for promotion, education and research. Second, the cattlemen's association has two divisions, and the organization is not allowed to use ANY of the "checkoff" funds collected from cattle producers for lobbying. Its work is audited internally, externally and by the government to assure this doesn't happen. Guess this article just proves the point that you can distribute ANY garbage on the internet, no matter how useless or wrong.
P Ruhland 5 years ago
This article is completely erroneous. The funds in question are not taxpayer money--they are funds from beef farmers themselves, who invest dollars to research and promote beef, and are completely separate from tax dollars. In fact, even the work the government does to administrate the program is charged back to farmers--not paid with tax dollars.

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