Having Their Steak And Eating It Too

Siddhartha Mahanta exposes how your tax dollars are funding the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the lobbying arm of Big Beef:

Imagine if the federal government mandated that a portion of all federal gas taxes go directly to the oil industry’s trade association, the American Petroleum Institute. Imagine further that API used this public money to finance ad campaigns encouraging people to drive more and turn up their thermostats, all while lobbying to discredit oil industry critics—from environmentalists to those calling for better safety regulations or alternative energy sources. That’s a deal not even Exxon could pull off, yet the nation’s largest meat-packers now enjoy something quite like it. Today, when you buy a Big Mac or a T-bone, a portion of the cost is a tax on beef, the proceeds from which the government hands over to a private trade group called the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The NCBA in turn uses this public money to buy ads encouraging you to eat more beef, while also lobbying to derail animal rights and other agricultural reform activists, defeat meat labeling requirements, and defend the ongoing consolidation of the industry. …

[I]n the case of the NCBA, the degree of subsidy is particularly extreme.

With its membership having shrunk from 40,000 in 1994 to 26,000 today, only 7 percent of the NCBA’s revenue comes from membership dues. That means that most of the cost of its overhead, from the $434,477 it paid its chief executive in 2010 to the cost of keeping the lights on and maintaining its Web site, comes from public money. As such, the comingling of its public money with lobbying activity is inherent and of great value. If the NCBA didn’t have those checkoff funds, says rancher Steve Charter, “they would have a pretty tough time keeping going.” Put another way, without the public money it receives, the NCBA might not even exist, and certainly would not have the lobbying clout it has today. As it is, the NCBA uses its power to lobby on a broad range of issues besides meat labeling that benefit meat-packers and other concentrated interests in agriculture. Most dramatic has been its successful effort to sabotage the Obama administration’s high-profile campaign to use antitrust law to limit the power of the big packers.

The NCBA is also a major opponent of animal welfare legislation:

The NCBA’s hostility to the Humane Society also puts it at odds with many independent ranchers. To be sure, ranchers and animal rights activists have stood for decades on almost entirely opposite sides of all farming issues. But that is changing, as consumer awareness and concern grows over the ethical and public health issues raised by confined animal feeding operations and other forms of industrial agriculture. Ranchers who treat their animals well want the public to know their story, and don’t want to be forced to subsidize a trade group that vilifies their potential customers as animal rights “radicals.”

Update from a reader: “In his new book Meatonomics, David Robinson Simon digs deeper“:

·         Average market value of a cow in the North Central United States : $245

·         Average cost to raise a cow in that region : $498

·         Amount US taxpayers spend yearly to subsidize meat and dairy : $38 billion

·         To subsidize fruits and vegetables : $17 million

·         Revenue collected by US fishing industry per pound of fish caught : $0.59

·         Portion of this figure funded by taxpayers as subsidies : $0.28

·         Annual government-managed “checkoff” spending to promote meat and dairy : $557 million

·         To promote fruits and vegetables : $51 million

·         Human lives that a 50% excise tax on meat and dairy would save yearly : 172,000

·         Animal lives it would save : 26 billion

·         Pounds this tax would cut yearly from US carbon-equivalent emissions : 3.4 trillion

·         Pounds of carbon equivalents emitted yearly from all US motor vehicles and vessels : 3.3 trillion


I think the beef post is a little misleading. The article is referring to the USDA “check off” program from the mid-’80s. Now, I can’t stand NCBA, the dairy producers, or the egg or pork guys (based on health and animal welfare grounds) who all use this program. If the author wants to repeal the law, that’s fine, but it’s not fair to keep insinuating that it’s public money, as though Congress is appropriating general fun revenue to these ag industries. They agreed to tax themselves to raise the money. There are plenty of insidious corporate welfare programs to attack without making one out to be more than it is.