Tell the USDA: Support Organic Farmers and Consumers Not Big Food. No ‘Organic Checkoff’ Program!
Advertisements with slogans like “Incredible Edible Egg,” “Pork: The Other White Meat,” “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner,” and “Got Milk?” promote industries (mostly Big Meat and Big Dairy), without ever mentioning a specific company or brand. Who pays for those ads?
The money comes from Research & Promotion (R&P) programs, commonly referred to as checkoff programs. Set up under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), checkoff programs require producers of agricultural commodities to contribute a percentage of sales to the program, which in turn provides research and promotion, including ads, to help expand the market for products like meat, milk and eggs.
Now the USDA, with support from the Organic Trade Association (OTA), wants to establish a similar mandatory program specifically for organic producers.
Good idea? The Big Food corporations that are buying up organic brands (and calling a lot of the shots at OTA), say yes. But small organic producers and family farmers say that an organic checkoff program will be bad for them, and bad for consumers.
TAKE ACTION BY MIDNIGHT APRIL 19: Tell the USDA: Support organic farmers and consumers not Big Food. No ‘Organic Checkoff’ Program! Please sign our 'No Organic Checkoff' petition. Then add your own comments to tell the U.S. Department of Agriculture why you’re opposed to the organic checkoff tax. You can also text 'nocheckoff' to 97779 to sign.
Federal checkoff programs have been great for the factory-farmed meat industry. But because the programs push the over-consumption of unhealthy animal products from polluting factory farms, they’ve been terrible for our health and our environment.
To understand how the programs have also been bad for small farmers and producers, it helps to understand how the money collected under the program is controlled and distributed. Take the beef industry, for instance. According to a recent article by The New Food Economy, the beef checkoff is operated by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA), a powerful lobbying group that counts the four largest meatpackers—JBS, Cargill, Tyson, and National Beef—among its product council members. As a parent organization, NCBA chooses 10 of the 20 members on the Beef Board Operating Committee, the group that determines the checkoff’s priorities.
Bill Bullard, director of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), a group that advocates on behalf of 4,500 independent cattle ranchers, told The New Food Economy:
“Our members overwhelmingly believe that the checkoff program is corrupt and that the money is being misused—at the very least—to cross-subsidize a lobbying group that lobbies aggressively against the interests of importance to the domestic cattle industry. There is a growing level of discontent and dissatisfaction among the independent producers.”
No Organic Checkoff, a coalition of over 27 not-for-profit organic farmer-member organizations and organic businesses, says misuse of the program by big producers has made small producers less competitive. According to the coalition, since the federal USDA mandatory beef checkoff was started in 1985, Missouri has lost 40 percent of its cattle producers.
Could an organic checkoff be different? Not likely. In fact, it could even be worse, according to the No Organic Checkoff coalition. Here’s why:
• Organic checkoff wouldn’t be allowed to promote the ways organic is different from foods produced with pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Under U.S. Department of Agriculture rules, checkoffs may not disparage other agricultural commodities. This means that an organic checkoff could never say that organic food is safer, healthier, has superior animal welfare practices, or is better for the environment. Even a claim like, “Organic is the Gold Standard” would be disallowed, implying that other foods can’t meet the standard.
• Organic checkoff would force U.S. organic farmers to compete with more cheap imports - Increased organic sales won’t benefit U.S. family farmers if U.S. companies are buying imports at prices below the cost of U.S. production. U.S. organic farmers already suffered a huge drop in prices, when Turkey’s shipments of organic corn to the U.S. more than tripled and its exports of organic soybeans to the U.S. jumped nearly 800 percent.
• Organic checkoff will flood the market with fake “organic.” – Increased demand doesn’t mean increased quality. The cheap organic Turkish imports flooding the U.S. market were rejected by the European Union and Canada after an international oversight group suspended the accreditation one of Turkey’s largest organic certifying companies.
• Organic checkoff would put power and money in the hands of the biggest companies. – The group pushing for an organic checkoff is the Organic Trade Association, an organization that’s always been controlled by the largest food companies, including companies that own popular organic brands but sell mostly factory-farmed and genetically-engineered foods. We’ve had to fight OTA every step of the way on everything from whether synthetics should be allowed in organic to whether GMOs should be labeled. They say that it’s fair for the biggest companies to control the checkoff because they’re going to pay for it. (The mandatory assessment will only be paid by those with gross organic sales in excess of $250,000.) But, in reality, these big companies will get small farmers to pay for the cost of the program by continuing to cut farm gate prices.
Your voice as an organic consumer in opposing the organic checkoff is critically important! Please sign the petition and add your own comment.