Thursday, November 18, 2010

NYT had it right, Daily Yonder wrong

The Daily Yonder thinks the earlier New York Times article about checkoff promotions is mistaken. Here is my comment on the Daily Yonder site:
This post understates the federal government role in the checkoff promotions, such as the Dominoes cheese pizza campaign.

The federal government established the dairy checkoff program, the Secretary of Agriculture appoints the board members from a slate of candidates proposed by the industry, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service must approve every promotion campaign in writing, and the federal government uses its power of taxation to enforce the collection of the funds that sponsor these campaigns. If a cheese producer fails to pay, the U.S. Department of Justice takes them to court.

Your post says, "Industry Group Uses Its Own Funds To Promote Its Products." That is incorrect. A minority of producers -- especially those who produce a distinctive product and benefit little from general commodity advertising -- object to these checkoff assessments. It is not they themselves who decided to pay, and it is not an "industry group" making them pay, it is the federal government making them pay.

When dissident producers took the checkoff programs to court, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the checkoff programs, only because the federal government attorney convinced the justices that these programs are from top to bottom federal government programs, and their every message has official status as "government speech."

Other products sponsored by these checkoff campaigns: McDonald's McRib, Quiznos Steakhouse Beef Dip sandwich, Wendy's Bacon Cheesburger, and Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Three Cheese Pizza. The checkoff programs encourage us to eat more beef, more pork, and more cheese all at the same time.

This blog post is full of misdirection -- saying the checkoff programs are not using "your tax money." This is like telling me that the government is not using "my tax money" for the war in Iraq or welfare checks or whatever you object to -- sure, the government is collecting the tax that funds those activities but they can reassure you that your particular tax payment was not the actual dollars used. Who cares which tax dollars were used for which purpose? If the federal government collected the tax, and the purpose is bad, we have a right to object.

Congress should either: (a) stop having the federal government enforce the checkoff assessments, or (b) expect that the checkoff messages serve our public health goals at a time when health care costs are threatening to bankrupt the government.


Lisa Veggie said...

So did they delete your comment? I don't see it on the post!

Yoni Freedhoff, MD said...

I don't see it either.

Given that the Daily Yonder was founded and supported by a group calling itself the "Media Democracy Fund", that's rather shameful.

Yoni Freedhoff, MD said...

Looks like it's up now, along with an editor's rebuttal of Parke's points.

Apparently their editor believes that the money used isn't fairly described as tax money, though I'm confused as to how that changes much of anything.

usfoodpolicy said...

Rebuttal? Isn't the editor agreeing with my main points, in an upside-down universe sort of way?

What the editor says here is true:

"The USDA is simply following the orders of Congress.

Parke writes: 'The checkoff programs encourage us to eat more beef, more pork, and more cheese all at the same time.' That is entirely what Congress and the majority of producers who voted for the checkoff wanted."

Yoni Freedhoff, MD said...

Yes, rebuttal was a generous word, though I think that he was trying to disagree with you in the sense that he believes that using taxpayer money, and following the orders of Congress, in the case of checkoff programs, are somehow mutually exclusive.

Anonymous said...

If you would like to hear a Dairy Farmers perspective please visit my blog at

usfoodpolicy said...

Raylindairy, thanks for posting that link here. Congratulations on your recent appointment by Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack to the board of the dairy checkoff program.

Having a dairy point of view in this comment section reminds me to emphasize: I think it's great for dairy farmers to earn a good living, promote their products, and thrive. I would oppose any restrictions on their ability to use their own money to advertise their products.

You probably caught the key point of my post, which doubts that the federal government should be collecting a tax that is used in the promotions that are inconsistent with good dietary guidance.

So, would you like to take up a challenge? If you believe these checkoff programs are a private sector dairy industry thing, would you write back to say: "These are dairy industry messages, not the federal government's message."

If you can write here to make that simple claim, I will write a big bold post conceding that the NYT got the story wrong.

Julie Ardery said...

The comment surely was posted -- and is. Not sure what the confusion was here. All comments are read before they're posted; perhaps you checked right after emailing to us.

Daily Yonder welcomes comments.

Julie Ardery
Daily Yonder