A Farmer’s Freedom of Speech


“Pork: The other white meat.” “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner.” You’ve seen the advertisements, you’ve heard the slogans.  They might seem innocuous enough, but both are paid for by a tax on farmers that compels them to pay for messages and industry campaigns with which they may well disagree. 

 

Whenever I take a pig, lamb, or cow to butcher or sale at the sale barn I am supposed to pay a tax that goes to fund one of these industry “check-off” programs.  The board or council of the program is then supposed to take that money and promote the consumption of pork at home and abroad and “educate” the public about modern farming practices.  That means getting people used to pigs kept in warehouses and cattle in feed lots. 

I don’t like that kind of “education” and I don’t need a federal program to advertise my meat and create demand for pork.  If people don’t want to eat pork then I don’t think congress has a role in convincing them that they should.  But that is how it is in the world of modern agriculture. 

These check-off programs began in the 1930s when Congress provided for the generic promotion of farm products.  The industries were given a federal mandate to collect dues for their organizations and they began to build demand for their products.  Often this demand creation was in the face of health advice.  There is some debate about how much dairy children should really have, but every Saturday morning the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board runs advertisements telling children and their parents that dairy products are an essential part of a healthy diet. 

For my own part, I do not want to be a part of the “pork industry” or “beef industry” even though I raise pigs and cattle.  I sell my products based on their quality and I can tell my customers all about why my particular products are good without the National Pork Board telling them why pork is good for them.

Often I promote my products as not meeting the “industry” standards; I promote my pork as actually having fat enough to grill, while the National Pork Board has worked hard to create skinny pigs that are marketed as an alternative to chicken. 

I don’t believe that farmers like myself should be compelled by the government to pay for advertising an industry that goes against our principles and basic beliefs about farming.  I don’t want every sale of an animal from my farm to go toward promoting the very factory farming system that I am trying to be an alternative to.  And yet that is the system that is in place.

The “check-off” programs are a little noticed threat to a greener agriculture.  Until they are abolished and a free market of speech is put in their place, farmers will be compelled to fund advertising campaigns that go against their conscience, and are of questionable national import.  I’m hopeful that Congress will eventually see these programs as the antiquated, depression era solutions they are and release farmers to use that money to promote their own farms and values. 

 

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Comments

I agree that it's pretty unfair to have small farmers like you who have high animal welfare standards be subsidizing the promotion of factory farmed meat around the world. And you're right-if there's not a demand for factory farmed meat, why create one? Livestock accounts for huge amounts of methane and other greenhouse gas emmissions, more than the entire transportation sector combined, according to a recent U.N. Food and Agriculture Report. And given all the hormones and antibiotics given to factory farmed meat and dairy, I wouldn't consider it an essential part of the "healthy" diet, and these industries shouldn't be allowed to mis-inform the public about something so important. I've also been reading about how arsenic is often added to factory farmed chicken to give it a certain color. Yes, that's right, arsenic. Pretty disgusting. There's no arsenic in tofu though!

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