Leah Douglas; May 14, 2015
“Got Milk?” “Pork: The Other White Meat.” “The Incredible Edible Egg.” “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.”
For years, these familiar slogans have highlighted the importance of American kitchen staples. What better represents the American way of eating than a glass of milk with your cookies or a hamburger on the grill? On billboards and television, these ubiquitous marketing campaigns have long shaped public perception of which foods constitute a wholesome diet. But consumers are often unaware of who, exactly, writes, produces, and pays for these ads.
Such marketing campaigns are funded by what is known in the food business as “checkoff” programs. These are in essence taxes that farmers pay to a national fund, the revenue from which is used to promote the consumption of commodities like pork, beef, eggs, and milk. The current beef checkoff, for instance, requires ranchers to pay $1 per head of cattle into the national fund. Checkoff programs’ activities can take the form of generic advertising campaigns, or they can look more like political lobbying.
Soon, this tax may extend to the organic industry. The Organic Trade Association, the largest trade group for organic agriculture, petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday to begin the process of establishing an organic checkoff. While the OTA believes that a checkoff program could help grow organic’s share of the grocery market, many producers and advocates are concerned that the tax will further entrench the interests and control of large-scale organic producers and retailers and will make it harder for smaller farmers and organic producers to compete.
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