July 4th isn’t far away. When I think of that holiday I not only think of its importance in our Nation’s history, but I must admit that my lips start to salivate over the thought of some amazing BBQ ribs, beef brisket, and deviled eggs - finished off with a hot slice of pecan pie. To me, that is about as American of a meal that you will ever find – though some say it should be apple pie - no self-respecting southerner would ever trade their pecan pie for an apple!
When I was growing up, a cookout on July 4th was the highlight of the year. We didn’t have much money and rarely did we get to eat ribs, so when the day came each year when my grandfather said it was time to pull the concrete blocks out of the garage and build the smoke pit, we knew that scrumptious meal was just around the corner.
No matter your political affiliation, celebrating Independence Day by gathering around a smoke pit for some beef brisket or pork ribs is an American pastime. But times are changing. More people are choosing to roast vegetables than cook meat and are laying off the deviled eggs and opting for a plant-based diet. In this country, that is our right. To choose what we eat. I honestly can’t think of anything that is a greater sign of freedom than the right to choose what we put in our bodies.
But the federal government doesn’t agree with that. They want to tell us what is good for us and in their mind, it is beef, pork, and eggs. To pay for their pearly words of wisdom they mandate that every farmer MUST pay a tax to the federal government on every cow, pig, and egg they sell so the government can tell us how important it is to consume those products – as if I need to be told by the government using a dictatorial tax that these items are good eatin? To me, that is one of the shining examples of a government that has gone too far. As a lifelong Republican, as was my grandfather, the thought of a mandatory tax on farmers being used to tell us what we should eat is absurd and violates every principle Republicans stand for – free association, freedom of choice, and a smaller and less intrusive government.
This program is called the Commodity Checkoff Program and was established to serve as a funding source for the government to promote U.S. agricultural programs and products. Sounds harmless enough, but there are several problems with the program – first and foremost it is mandatory. No matter if you are a local farmer or the largest farming conglomerate in the country you must pay this tax. As a Republican, I believe that farmers should be able to choose if they want to participate in such a program. If they want to protect and grow their market share, then let them raise the money voluntarily and use it as they see fit.
But there are some in the industry who want to hold on to antiquated agricultural practices and therefore are happy to have the government as their henchman to collect the money from farmers who don’t agree with those practices. Which brings us to the second problem. Once the government has taken the money, they then turn it over to agricultural lobbyists and special interests who use those tax dollars to build their influence. Influence that allows them to lobby the government to help them protect their monopoly.
So in short – the government collects the tax from every farmer then turns around and gives the money back to a small group of those farmers and their hired guns who then use the money to lobby the same government that gave them the money so they can get laws and regulations adopted that help them. They also use these tax dollars to fight farmers and ranchers who have paid the tax, and who along with the public, advocate for humane standards in raising animals for consumption and to oppose those who want to advocate for more Americans adopting a plant-based diet.
Is this really government's role? Being the henchman for an out of touch agricultural industry, showing preference for their products, lecturing the consumer on what they should put in their bodies, while limiting what they can buy, while embracing inhumane agricultural practices?
You must know something is amiss when there is no transparency in this whole process. In a recent Freedom of Information (FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking for 12,341 pages of financial records pertaining to the administration of the beef checkoff program, the USDA only turned over 175 pages with the rest being totally redacted. If all was above board, why would the USDA withhold 98% of the federal beef checkoff program spending records from the ranchers who gave the government the money in the first place?
There is some hope. The Heritage Foundation has called for reform of the program and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Representative Dave Brat (R-VA) have introduced legislation to reform the program – calling for it to be voluntary, establishing transparency on how the program is managed, and ensuring that tax dollars aren’t misappropriated and used illegally to lobby government.
We are a nation that is almost 20 trillion dollars in debt. We are in an era where we must cut government spending and the size of government and one simple way is to let the agricultural industry fend for itself. Let’s take the government out of the equation, or at a minimum make the checkoff voluntary. Let’s get back to the core principles of a smaller and less intrusive government. If the farmers and ranchers of this country want to remind the public why they should buy beef, pork and eggs and how that is better than a plant-based diet or how they believe their agricultural practices are sound and humane, let them pay and organize it themselves. Let them convince the consumer and not have the government serve as their henchman.
I can assure you that my grandfather didn’t need the government telling him to buy beef, pork or eggs – nor do I. In the real world, if the product is good, safe, healthy, and humane, people will buy it.
So why did the cow, chicken and pig cross the road? Not because the government told them to, but because they saw my grandfather building the smoke pit and they knew their days were numbered. Just like us, they don’t need the government to tell them what is best for them. Take government out of it – let the free market work.
All the best,