Animal Food Checkoff Programs and the Economics of Meat Production

Animal food checkoff programs are benefiting the animal food production industry, but not the consumers.

| August 2013

  • Animal-Food
    Although few Americans have heard of animal food checkoff programs, we’ve all heard or seen the catchy, feel-good slogans they’ve generated, such as “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.”
    Photo By Fotolia/B. Wylezich
  • Meatonomics
    Learn how the economics of meat are making you consume too much in “Meatonomics.”
    Cover Courtesy Canari Press

  • Animal-Food
  • Meatonomics

Meatonomics (Conari Press, 2013) by David Robinson Simon explores the murky economics of animal food production and how it affects our health, the environment and food animals. Learn how to save money, lose weight, boost your health and protect the environment just by knowing the facts. In this excerpt from chapter 1, “Influencing the Consumer,” see how animal food checkoff programs are driving consumers to eat more meat than ever before. 

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In his 1932 novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley imagined a future in which humans exist solely to support the economy and are condi­tioned from birth to buy things. Government bureaucrats manipulate the sheep-like citizens with drugs and slogans to make them con­sume as much as possible. In Huxley’s vision, 26th-century consumers learn that “ending is better than mending” and “the more stitches, the less riches”—that is, buying new things is better than fixing old ones. But for US consumers, this eerie futuristic fantasy—with gov­ernment using marketing slogans and other undue influence to drive consumption—has arrived a few centuries early. This chapter explores government marketing as a feature of meatonomics and considers its consequences for consumers.

Checkoff Programs: Unseen and Unknown, But Felt Everywhere

In the Brave New World of the 21st century—where big box stores and mega markets dominate the landscape—our government uses innocuous-sounding “checkoff” programs to encourage us to buy more animal foods and other goods. The mechanism’s name persists from a time when the assessments were voluntary and producers willing to opt in participated by simply checking a box. Nowadays, the programs are tax-like and mandatory, even though the benign checkoff moniker remains.

The way they work is simple: Congress slaps a small assessment (less than 1 percent of wholesale price) on certain commodities, and the collected funds are used to pay for research and marketing programs that boost the goods’ sales. So when animal food produc­ers collect $1 per head of cattle, $0.40 per $100 of pork, or $0.15 per 100 pounds of dairy, they pass those funds on to national marketing organizations. The proceeds are allocated among state and regional industry organizations throughout the country. There aren’t many Boston Tea Party–like protests when it comes to making the pay­ments—probably because most consumers don’t know about animal food check­off programs and most producers think their trade groups put the money to good use. These trade groups don’t equivocate much about what they do or why they exist. The Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, for example, keeps it simple, saying its business purpose is “Promotion of the beef industry.”

Although few Americans have heard of checkoff programs, we’ve all heard or seen the catchy, feel-good slogans they’ve generated:

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