Chicken: It’s what’s for dinner — with or without a checkoff program

Chicken: It’s what’s for dinner—with or without a checkoff program

By: Jonathan Buttram

June 14, 2018

They say this is the Golden Age of Poultry. Chicken consumption has hit an all-time high, outpacing beef, pork, and turkey. According to USDA estimates, beef was being consumed at 84.4 pounds per person per year in 1970. Today? That number is projected to be 57.9 pounds per person in 2018. Chicken consumption, on the other hand, is up from 40.1 pounds in 1970 to an
estimated 92.5 pounds projected for 2018—all without the help of any checkoff program.

Chicken has overtaken the consumption of beef for many reasons—dietary trends, price, and availability (i.e. cut-up, pre-cooked and fast food offerings), among them. Although many factors play a role, it’s noteworthy, and worth further discussion, that consumption levels of both beef and pork have fallen in the years since the checkoff programs for each were instituted. All while
consumption of chicken, which has no promotional program of any kind, has continued to climb.

Originally intended to collect money to be used for promotion and research, commodity checkoff programs were established to help farmers of all sizes. Paid for directly from mandatory farmer payments, these programs were never to be used for lobbying efforts, nor were they to fund campaigns against any other commodity, agricultural product or animal welfare measure.

History, however, has proven otherwise. Since the inception of these programs, illegal relationships between checkoff boards and lobbying organizations have formed. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been misused, and these checkoff programs, as they are currently being managed, do not work in the best interests of independent family farmers.

These checkoff programs must be fixed. Though the 2018 Farm Bill, H.R. 2, was defeated with a 198-213 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, the House plans to again vote for the legislation later this month. The Senate also plans to mark up its version of the farm bill this month. Our legislators need to look to an amendment filed by U.S. Reps. Dave Brat (R-VA),
Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Dina Titus (D-NV) on the House bill that would adequately reform the USDA’s checkoff programs.

Similar to the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, H.R. 1753 calls for much-needed transparency and accountability in the checkoff programs. S. 741, which is a standalone counterpart in the U.S. Senate, is being led by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Upper Chamber.

More than 250,000 family farmers and ranchers are represented by the 80-plus farm organizations that are calling for checkoff reform in the 2018 Farm Bill. As a poultry producer, I understand the need for parity in livestock production—for big and small producers alike. My colleagues and friends raising beef and pork are not benefiting from current checkoff practices.

The system has to change, and accountability and transparency are key to righting the wrongs in the current USDA programs.

Jonathan Buttram is president of the Alabama Contract Poultry Growers Association.