Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Where is the dairy checkoff Report to Congress?

Each year, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) sends an official Report to Congress summarizing the activities of the dairy checkoff program. Through this program, milk and dairy producers must pay a mandatory assessment -- like a tax -- to semi-public federal checkoff boards that use the funds for advertising and promotion.

As this blog has reported in the past, the annual reports make lively reading, laying bare the program's ambitions for raising dairy consumption through healthy and unhealthy methods alike. For example, in Feb 2014, we noted that the report described the program's partnerships with Domino's and other restaurant chains to get Americans -- who already consume astonishing amounts of pizza -- to yet further increase their average pizza consumption. The pizza partnerships appear in tension with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which also is overseen by USDA (jointly with the Department of Health and Human Services).

Recently, the AMS website has been redesigned. The dairy checkoff annual reports that formerly were posted there can no longer be found, at least for now. USDA may be intending to repost these reports as the website redesign proceeds. [Update Aug 20: AMS writes by email today that a link is now available to the archived reports from the website's pages for the fluid milk checkoff program and the dairy checkoff program. Thanks!]

Moreover, even though the annual Report to Congress is required under dairy checkoff program rules, AMS has not released a report for any year of program activities since 2012. The most recent report I have was a 2013 report covering the 2012 activities. When they become available, I look forward to reading the reports covering 2013 and 2014 activities. 

Dairy farmers may wonder at the scarcity and untimeliness of transparent information about the hundreds of millions of dollars they are forced to pay into these advertising and promotion programs. 

Yet, perhaps it is better to be a dairy farmer than a pork or beef producer. The other leading checkoff programs have no independent USDA Report to Congress at all. The only annual reports for beef and pork come straight from the checkoff programs themselves. In my experience, the dairy checkoff Report to Congress from AMS has always been more frank than the internal annual reports from the other programs, so the lack of timely posting seems like a loss for sound U.S. food policy-making.

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