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Agriculture Today

Humane Society takes out after beef check-off

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Guest Editorial
August 22, 2012 | 3,238 views | Post a comment

By Gene Hall

What’s an animal-rights organization like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) doing in a legal battle over the beef check-off?

HSUS has decided to involve itself in a lawsuit that includes an officer of the Organization for Competitive Markets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. HSUS has inserted itself into what could be interpreted as an internal beef business squabble.

Many experts argue that the suit is aimed at taking down the beef check-off itself. Businesses invest in a wide array of activities to develop products, markets, and services. These include research, marketing, and advertising. Ranching is not a monolithic business, but is composed of thousands of individual ranchers who cannot afford these investments. Ranchers voted more than two decades ago to fund a beef research and marketing program to do it for them. One dollar from the sale of every animal is “checked off” to fund those activities. No business can survive or thrive without investing in its own infrastructure. Do you think HSUS knows this? Oh, yeah.

Strangely, one of the activities funded by the beef check-off is BQA -- the Beef Quality Assurance program. A key element of that, funded by check-off dollars, is low-stress handling of beef animals. In other words, ranchers themselves have funded the study for “kinder and gentler” treatment of livestock. As we’ve written here before, this is not only better for the animals, but is just good business. HSUS is, in effect, attacking the system that devotes considerable resources to low-stress environments for livestock.

Why? HSUS chief Wayne Pacelle said the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has misused check-off funds to lobby, which is against the law. The association is required to separate those funds from their activities representing ranchers. They routinely have to satisfy federal auditors who look into this. It’s not my job to defend the cattlemen’s association, and I won’t, but it’s not like they’ve been allowed to operate as a loose cannon.

What Pacelle is really mad about is this. He says the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association should “stay in its lane.” It has lobbied against HSUS’s egg bill in Congress. Reduced to the lowest common denominator, this is just naked intimidation. What the association knows and what Pacelle will not say is this: Once he’s done with the egg, broiler, and pork industries, beef is next.

Attacking the funding mechanism that results in better handling of livestock would seem to be counterproductive for HSUS --unless you understand the goal is not really “kinder and gentler” meat production. It’s no meat production at all. An organization very good at sleight of hand should own up to that.

Gene Hall is the public relations director for the Texas Farm Bureau.

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