Big Ag has a history of abusing its multi-million-dollar marketing arms – known as checkoffs – for illegal and anti-competitive purposes. The egg checkoff’s legendary attacks on Hampton Creek are a prime example, and the list goes on.
Now, the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) has revealed that the dairy industry, which has one of the largest pots of checkoff money at $400 million, hasn’t reported on its activities since 2012. These reports are federally mandated as a way to ensure funds are used explicitly for research and promotion. Nonetheless, the USDA has failed to submit an accounting of this checkoff's actions, allowing the controversial program to operate in the dark for years.
The kicker? According to OCM, “Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was responsible for the reports that were not submitted for five years, now serves as the president and CEO of the checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council.”
We already know that factory farms are the opposite of transparent: There are actually laws that criminalize sharing information about what goes on inside these farms. The massive marketing programs that promote the products of these industrial farms cannot be allowed to operate in secrecy as well.
The Good Food Institute is actively working to reform checkoff programs (check it). We’re also working to stop the dairy industry from sidelining its plant-based competition with unconstitutional legislation (details on that one here).
This news has implications for both aims. It’s time to build a food system where products that are healthier, humane, and more sustainable than animal products are given an equal shot at success in the market. Demanding that the dairy industry is held accountable for any anti-competitive behavior is critical to this goal. Without transparency, there’s no check on the behavior of checkoffs.
To learn how GFI is supporting the plant-based foods industry, check out what we do!