Rep. Titus imparts fairness for Nevada ranchers

By Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA

In his May 18, 2023, opinion, “Rep. Titus Sides with Animal Rights Activists Over Nevada Ranchers,” the CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Colin Woodall, criticizes U.S. Congresswoman Dina Titus’s sponsorship of legislation that will modernize and improve the nearly 40-year-old mandatory beef checkoff program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the spirit of full disclosure, one improvement contained in Titus’ Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act, or OFF Act, will prohibit organizations that engage in lobbying from receiving any of the $80 million or so the beef checkoff program collects from cattle ranchers each year. And this is a government-mandated collection: cattle ranchers are required by law to pay $1 per head into the beef checkoff program every time they sell an animal, regardless of whether they agree with how their money is spent. 

Now because the NCBA is a lobbying organization that represents the interests of beef packers and cattle producers, it would no longer receive checkoff dollars under the OFF Act, and this is significant as the organization receives tens of millions of the government-mandated dollars each year, having been awarded $25.7 million for 2023.

This helps to explain why the NCBA would be so upset with Rep. Titus’ bill. But the purpose of the prohibition is important as it addresses the fact that while funds collected under the beef checkoff program may not be used to lobby, checkoff programs have been shown to do it anyway, either directly or by partnering with organizations that lobby.

Now while Woodall does not disclose that his organization receives tens of millions of beef checkoff funds in his critique of Rep. Titus’ bill, he does allege that it would effectively cripple beef research and promotion efforts that are critical to the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers and the beef industry as a whole. But he does not say how. In fact, other than stating the bill would prevent lobbying, Woodall does not discuss the merits of the bill at all.  

The organization I represent, R-CALF USA, is a cattle industry lobbying group as well, but we exclusively represent the interests of cattle ranchers, not also the interests of the beef packers as does the NCBA. We strongly agree with Rep. Titus that no lobbying group, including ours, should receive beef checkoff dollars that Congress earmarked exclusively for beef promotion and research. It makes little sense to us that the money collected from cattle ranchers must first be passed through a lobbying-oriented middleman on its way to performing the important functions of beef promotion and research. Obviously, lobbying organizations like mine and Woodall’s are inherently biased toward the particular interests of our respective members, and this bias has no place in a government-mandated program created to benefit every cattle rancher, regardless of their political ideals. 

But the improvements in Rep. Titus’ bill do not stop there. And we strongly disagree that they will cripple beef promotion and research. Instead, they address specific problems that my organization and many state cattle organizations have been trying to fix for years. For example, the bill prevents the beef checkoff program from engaging in acts that involve conflicts of interest, anticompetitive activities, unfair or deceptive acts, or from disparaging other agricultural commodities. It also requires the beef checkoff program to publish budgets and disbursements of funds and requires periodic audits.

Now these are provisions that every government-mandated program should contain as they impart fairness, honesty, transparency and accountability, all of which are virtues American cattle ranchers appreciate. 

Importantly, it is cattle ranchers themselves who have asked that the beef checkoff program be improved. Along with R-CALF USA, many state cattle associations have publicly endorsed Rep. Titus’ bill.

Editor’s Note: This column first appeared on May 26, 2023.

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