The Ohio Farmers Union teamed up with the Organization for Competitive Markets and released a briefing paper outlining accusations directed at Ohio’s checkoff programs, specifically the beef checkoff.
The report refers to the Ohio Beef Council as a “state agency” that raises funds for the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Political Action Committee (PAC) to influence elections and legislation. The report contends “the Ohio Beef Council, an agency of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, is funneling taxpayer dollars through payroll expenses and rental costs to fund the trade and lobbying group, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association.”
The report points out that the organization also makes annual cash payments of at least $14,000 per year to the national trade and lobbying group, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and claims this violates both state and federal law.
“For years we have shared these concerns, but they have only fallen on deaf ears at the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Last month at our Ohio Farmers Union convention, we passed a resolution to put a stop to these taxpayer abuses,” said Joe Logan, Ohio Farmers Union president. “We can only hope, based on the evidence in the briefing paper, others in our government will hear the cry of Ohio’s cattle producers and answer the call to clean up this mess.”
The new briefing from the Ohio Farmers Union and the Organization for Competitive Markets outlines the following:
- Department of Agriculture agency Ohio Beef Council employees go to work every day for the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, a state trade and lobbying organization.
- State and federal funds are offsetting the organizational overhead costs for the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association.
- The Ohio Beef Council promotes and collects donations for the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association’s Political Action Committee (PAC).
- State and federal funds are being directly contributed to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a national trade and lobbying organization.
- The only reports available to the cattle producers who pay the mandatory fees are self-reports by the Ohio Beef Council. There is a lack of taxpayer transparency on how the checkoff funds are being expended.
- The state and federal checkoff funds are not appropriated by the legislature nor audited by the state auditor, leaving little if any government oversight of the mandatory checkoff fees.
In response, the Ohio Farmers Union and the Organization for Competitive Markets suggest the following actions:
- Federal and state checkoff funds should be paid directly to the appropriate federal or state treasury and then be audited by the corresponding federal or state auditing agency.
- The Ohio Department of Agriculture should immediately segregate all activity between the Ohio Beef Council and the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association.
- Policy should be established that clearly outlines: no state employee should report to a lobbying entity office for work; no state or federal funds should be used directly or indirectly to offset a lobbying entity’s overhead costs to include office rent, equipment costs, salaries or any incidental costs incurred by the lobbying entity; all government funds should be expended pursuant to state standard contracting processes.
The Organization for Competitive Markets is a national organization headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska representing America’s family farmers fighting the takeover of the food system by large multinational and foreign corporations. The OCM collaborates with groups like the Ohio Farmers Union and other labor unions, worker justice organizations, conservationists, and animal welfare organizations push to for reform using various strategies, including the accusations directed at the Ohio Beef Council.
The Ohio Beef Council responded with the following statement:
“The Ohio Beef Council is proud not only of its efforts to help enhance beef demand for the benefit of beef producers, but of the comprehensive and robust firewalls in place to assure that checkoff funds are used lawfully and as intended. The Ohio Department of Agriculture has provided trusted and vigilant oversight to that end. Information on that spending can be found at www.ohiobeef.org.
“Furthermore, we believe Ohio beef checkoff funds should continue be collected in Ohio, and that Ohio beef producers should have a say in where their checkoff dollars go. Suggestions by the Organization for Competitive Markets that these collections should go directly to the national or state government are an insult to the producers who work diligently to put beef producer dollars where they will do the most good. Passing them through government agencies serves no practical purpose and will only increase costs to taxpayers and reduce the funding available for programs that benefit beef and beef producers.”
Additional layers of oversight would be redundant, expensive and inefficient, the Ohio Beef Council contends.
“The 15 members of the Ohio Beef Council Operating Committee, that are appointed by the Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, take their responsibility for investing producer funds to enhance beef demand very seriously,” said Jamie Graham, Ohio Beef Council chairman and cattleman from Patriot, Ohio. “We are committed to maintaining the integrity of the firewall that exists between our organization and the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association.”
The Ohio Beef Council also pointed out the unsettling connection with the Organization for Competitive Markets and the Humane Society of the United States, an animal welfare organization with clearly anti-animal agriculture intentions.
“We are discouraged the Organization for Competitive Markets and its friends at the Humane Society of the United States continue to use the producer’s Beef Checkoff Program as a cudgel against the very producers who benefit from it. Former HSUS employee Joe Maxwell of OCM may not recognize actions of his organization as counterproductive to the interests of Ohio cattle producers, but they are,” the Ohio Beef Council said in a statement. “Joining forces with a group that wants to decrease beef consumption is not in the best interests of Ohio beef producers. We think those who raise beef cattle will see through these very damaging threats to their checkoff, and recognize that HSUS/OCM attacks are a message that these groups would rather our beef industry not be successful. We hope Ohio Farmers Union will wake up to that realization soon.”
The Ohio Department of Agriculture also responded to the accusations, pointing out several inaccuracies in the report.
“The Ohio Department of Agriculture takes its oversight over commodity checkoff programs seriously to ensure Ohio producers receive the common benefits checkoffs are designed to provide. ODA regularly attends checkoff meetings and receives monthly reports and annual audits. These audits are compiled by a third-party accounting firm and made available to the public whenever requested,” the Ohio Department of Agriculture said in a statement. “There are several inaccuracies in the statement and some require further clarification. The Ohio Beef Marketing Program is administered by the Ohio Beef Council and is not a part of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Its employees are not state employees and they are not under direct supervision of anyone at the agency. Additionally, checkoff dollars are not state or federal taxpayer funds.”
The Ohio Department of Agriculture regularly oversees the actions of all commodity groups and addresses any concerns identified by the department or other parties. In addition, all state checkoff programs offer a refund program for any producers who ask.