The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is seen on Capitol Hill and in the agriculture press as the leading expert and voice of America’s cattle producers. This is largely because they have been the primary beef checkoff contractor for nearly 30 years, raking in tens of millions of dollars out of ranchers’ pockets annually through a government program.
The truth is, less than three percent of cattle ranchers in the U.S. are members of NCBA.
What’s more, the policies NCBA lobbies for only benefit the world’s biggest meatpacking conglomerates: Cargill, National Beef Packing, and Tyson Foods are all members.
NCBA has spread misinformation about any efforts to reform the beef checkoff program in op-eds riddled with misleading statements and testimonies to Congress laced with false claims.
Because of their oversized budget (flush with millions from the checkoff), most are reluctant to take them on.
Our team at Farm Action Fund felt a responsibility to call NCBA out, so we launched the informational website www.whoisncba.com and hired a mobile billboard to share this public service announcement.
We knew that if we didn’t speak up, we might lose any chance at passing meaningful checkoff reform.
NCBA purports to be the voice of the cattle industry, but less than three percent of cattle ranchers in the U.S. are actually members.
HOW DOES NCBA MAKE THEIR MONEY?
Many members of Congress don’t know that NCBA is funded primarily with mandatory government fees collected from every U.S. rancher through a program called the beef checkoff.
While NCBA receives some dues from their limited membership as well as corporate sponsorships at their trade shows, more than 70 percent of their income — $26 million dollars — came out of the pockets of ranchers in 2020 as mandatory fees paid through the beef checkoff program.
Every year for nearly thirty years, NCBA has received the lion’s share of checkoff funds.
How is this possible?
By seizing control of the committee that awards checkoff contracts, NCBA rigged this government system to pour ranchers’ dollars into their own pockets.
Even ranchers who don’t agree with NCBA’s work and have opted not to join as members must fund the association through mandatory checkoff fees.
Farm Action Fund hired this truck as a public service, to ensure that Congress knows that NCBA is a government checkoff contractor.
HOW DOES NCBA SPEND THEIR MONEY?
NCBA claims their mission is simply to increase demand for beef. And yet when you look at the expenditures on their tax forms, a quick calculation tells you they’re spending only about half of every dollar on actual beef promotion and research initiatives.
The other half of that dollar mostly goes to salaries: In 2020, NCBA spent $17.5 million on a 180-person staff, with 50 of those employees making six-figure salaries and the CEO and CFO each raking in nearly half a million dollars every year.
As for the state of today’s beef industry: Beef consumption has fallen from 79 pounds to under 57 pounds per person today. The rancher’s share of every dollar consumers spend on beef has plummeted from more than 60% in the late 1980s to as low as 37% in recent years.
And since the beef checkoff was established, half a million ranchers have gone out of business.
WHAT IS NCBA’S POLITICAL AGENDA?
NCBA is a lobbying group that works to advance initiatives that strengthen the dominance of their multinational meatpacker members. This work is at odds with the interests of America’s independent cattlemen and women.
In 2015, NCBA successfully lobbied to kill Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) for beef, which was a powerful marketing tool for independent American ranchers to distinguish their products from lower-quality imported meat sold by giant meatpackers like Brazil’s JBS.
NCBA’s more recent efforts to defeat the bipartisan Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act are clearly motivated by self-interest: The OFF Act would prevent checkoff funds from being awarded to lobbying groups, and 70% of NCBA’s budget is derived from checkoff funds.
NCBA has also been a critic of ongoing USDA rulemaking that would give farmers more legal rights against meat processors and poultry conglomerates. NCBA joined other groups in lobbying against the rules; altogether, these agribusiness interests spent $7.79 million in 2010 to successfully lobby against them.
WHO BENEFITS FROM NCBA’S WORK?
NCBA’s lobbying efforts have paid off for the largest members: Meatpacking conglomerates Marfrig (the Brazil-based parent company of National Beef) and Cargill increased their profits by 53% and 23% respectively in fiscal year 2022. Tyson’s impressive 48% year-over-year profit increase in 2021 pulled in more than $3 billion for the company.
Meanwhile, America’s ranchers are going out of business at an alarming rate.
Even though NCBA gets the lion’s share of beef checkoff dollars in order to promote beef, demand for it continues to fall, with per capita beef consumption falling from 79 pounds to under 57 pounds per person today. Since the beef checkoff was established, half a million U.S. cattle producers have been driven out of business.
IS NCBA TRUSTWORTHY?
NCBA has a history of misrepresenting facts and concealing the truth to protect their interests. Here are a few high-profile instances.
At a 2023 House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, NCBA’s president failed to disclose that NCBA receives federal grants and contracts related to the hearing’s subject matter — even though NCBA is a contractor for the federal beef checkoff program which is overseen by the USDA. In fact, beef checkoff funds make up approximately 70% of NCBA’s annual budget.
During his testimony at the hearing, NCBA’s president misrepresented the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act as “defunding” the beef checkoff program. In truth, the OFF Act would simply add transparency and accountability to checkoff programs, and prohibit funds from being granted to lobbying organizations such as NCBA. NCBA’s failure to disclose to the committee that they rely on government checkoff contracts gave greater weight to this misrepresentation.
In a Western Ag Reporter op-ed, NCBA claimed that the OFF Act “would prevent…land-grant universities, and many research institutions from contracting with the Beef Checkoff.” This is untrue. According to the bill text, the OFF Act provides an exception for universities and land grant institutions, allowing them to continue to contract with checkoff programs.
In a news article, NCBA stated that the OFF Act would prevent checkoff programs from contracting with “entities that employ a registered federal lobbyist.” The example NCBA gave was that of the American Lung Association’s research into the health impacts of soy-based products.
So by saying that the OFF Act prevents funds from going to any entity that employs a registered federal lobbyist, NCBA is implying that the OFF Act would somehow endanger critical funds for research into cancer and other illnesses.
The truth is that the American Lung Association would only be prohibited from contracting with the checkoff if they lobby on agricultural policy. NCBA, on the other hand, does lobby extensively on agricultural policy — mainly to the benefit of the world’s largest meatpacking conglomerates.
ALL CASH, NO CATTLE
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association wants you to think they speak for cattlemen and women, but ranchers know the truth: that “Beef” in their name is just short for “beef packer,” and that is where their real priorities lie.