By ROXANA HEGEMAN, Associated Press
BEAUTIFUL PLAIN, Kan. (AP) – For 35 years, cattle producers have funded one of the country’s most iconic marketing campaigns, but now many want to end the program that created “Beef.” This is the slogan âWhat’s for Dinnerâ.
What is the beef of the breeders? It is that their mandatory fee of $ 1 per head of cattle sold does not specifically promote American beef at a time when imports are flooding the market and plant-based “fake meat” products are proliferating in grocery stores. .
âThe American consumer is being fooled at the meat counter and our levy funds do nothing to help clarify or answer the question of where this sirloin was born, raised and harvested,â said Karina Jones, cattle breeder of the United States. Nebraska and field director for the R-CALF USA business group seeking to end the levy.
Opponents of the beef holdback program, which was established by federal law in 1986, are urging cattle ranchers to sign a petition calling for a referendum vote to end the program.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last month granted an extension until October 3 for them to collect the required signatures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Supporters of the petition argue that the beef levy is a government-mandated assessment to fund the government’s speech. The law cannot use beef holdback funds to advertise other meats such as pork or chicken, nor to lobby. But they complain that much of the money nonetheless supports lobby groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association that oppose mandatory country-of-origin labels.
They also point out that the American beef industry today is radically different from what it was when the levy program was put in place, with more imported beef and a greater concentration of meat processors.
âNow we are paying the advertising bill for four big meat packers that are able to import beef and source it in cheaper countries and fool our consumers,â Jones said.
The petition has created a schism in the livestock industry between those who support the levy and those who do not.
But consumers also have an interest in the fight.
One way to look at it is that consumers probably shouldn’t like the levy program because it increases the price of their beef, and some consumer groups are against it for that reason, said Harry Kaiser, program director of the program. Cornell University product promotion research. Another way to look at it is that the levy also funds beef safety research and the development of new beef products, he said.
âConsumers pay a few cents more, but it’s a safer product, a better product,â Kaiser said.
Kaiser, who conducts research for the US Department of Agriculture on commodity advertising and promotion programs, wrote in an economic analysis that domestic demand for beef between 2014 and 2018 would have been 14.3 lower. % without consumer advertising and other promotional activities of Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Council. In 2019, the council had a budget of $ 40.5 million to spend on activities aimed at increasing the demand for beef.
Kaiser also noted in a telephone interview that the levy-funded marketing study found that one of the reasons consumers were reluctant to buy beef was because they believed they needed too much. time to prepare after returning from work. This has led to the development of easier-to-prepare beef products that consumers can buy at the supermarket and simply microwave for cooking.
But beef producers say it’s been two decades since innovations in levy-funded beef have been like the flat-iron steak, a high-value cut from a low-value area of ââthe carcass that previously came from be transformed into a chuck roast.
Since 1966, Congress has authorized industry-funded research and promotion commissions to help agricultural producers pool their resources and develop new markets. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Department now oversees 22 of these commodity programs, according to its website.
The mandatory nature of the various commodity levy programs has been controversial, triggering thousands of lawsuits over the years. Three cases have reached the U.S. Supreme Court with mixed results, Kaiser said.
The country’s highest court ruled in a 1997 fruit tree growers case that product advertising was constitutional because it was part of a larger regulatory agenda. But four years later, the Supreme Court ruled that a federally mandated mushroom advertising program was not part of a larger regulatory program and was therefore unconstitutional as forced private speech. And in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the beef levy program was constitutional for reasons of government rhetoric.
Although these programs are now constitutional as part of a larger regulatory agenda, Kaiser said a conservative Supreme Court could overturn these precedents, which are similar to the requirement for workers to be unionized.
This isn’t the first time critics of the beef holdback program have tried to get enough signatures on a petition. The Agricultural Marketing Department received a petition from livestock producers in 1999 and determined that the number of signatures had not reached the required number.
It takes the petition signatures of 10% of the country’s cattle ranchers – in this case 88,269 valid signatures – to submit the matter to the secretary of agriculture. Any cattle producer who has owned, sold or purchased cattle from July 2, 2020 to July 1, 2021 is eligible to sign the petition. Vilsack would then decide whether or not to hold a referendum on the end of the program.
So far, opponents of the levy have gathered around 30,000 signatures, Jones said.
Kansas breeder Steve Stratford, one of the people behind the petition, said meat packers – who do not contribute to the levy program – are the ones whose profit margins have increased for that the levy exists.
âLong story short: the person paying the dollar is not the one reaping the benefits of better demand and higher beef prices,â Stratford said.
But Greg Hanes, the executive director of the beef board that manages the levy program, said when it was established there was a “conscientious decision” not to involve the slaughterhouses so that it was driven by producers. He noted that market dynamics are constantly changing and sometimes packers do better than growers and sometimes growers do better than packers.
Hanes defended the levy, saying it is especially important for nutritional research and that without the program consumers don’t get information about the benefits of beef.