Colin Woodall: Sen. Mike Lee sides with animal rights activists over Utah ranchers

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mike Lee speaks with media on election night at the Hyatt Regency in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Sen. Mike Lee’s political positions typically align with agriculture. He usually opposes the burdensome regulations that threaten family farmers and ranchers and understands the importance of a fair tax code, but on the issue of commodity checkoffs, Sen. Lee has teamed up with vegan Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to abandon Utah ranchers entirely.

Recently, Sen. Lee co-sponsored legislation deceptively titled the “Opportunities for Fairness in Farming” or OFF Act. In his statement, he claimed this legislation would clean up a “slush fund” at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and protect family farmers and ranchers. In reality, this bill is a thinly veiled attack on the people who raise our food.

Instead, the Beef Checkoff is focused on driving beef demand for the benefit of all cattle producers, and for every $1 invested into the checkoff, cattle producers see an average return of $11.91.

The Beef Checkoff is a producer-directed program, the activities and investments of which are overseen by USDA. Cattle producers are appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture and volunteer their time to direct Checkoff investments to programs that support research, consumer education, marketing, and promotion efforts. Proponents of the OFF Act, like Sen. Lee, claim the bill would prevent checkoff dollars from being used for lobbying, something already prohibited by the existing federal law that governs the Beef Checkoff. What this bill actually does is effectively cripple beef research and promotion efforts that are critical to the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers and the beef industry as a whole.

This is why Sen. Lee’s legislation is supported by a laundry list of animal rights groups including Animals Are Sentient Beings, Inc., a group that says because of animals’ feelings we should no longer eat meat; Attorneys for Animals, a law firm that sues to treat animals as individuals; and Mercy for Animals, whose mission is ending “the exploitation of animals for food.”

Groups opposed to this legislation include farming and ranching organizations like the Utah Cattlemen’s Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the trade associations representing producers and growers of sheep, pork, honey, mushrooms, soybeans, produce, cotton, milk, pecans, potatoes, sorghum, blueberries, watermelons, eggs, and peanuts. Even Christmas tree growers are opposed to Lee’s OFF Act.

Beef Checkoff-funded research has led to the development of new cuts of beef like the petite tender and flat iron steaks. These new cuts provide people with more great options for grilling season and help cattle producers receive more profit for their high-quality beef. Nutrition and food safety research are vital to ensure that U.S. beef continues to meet our country’s high food safety standards and showcases how beef is part of a healthy diet as an excellent source of protein which supplies 10 essential nutrients. The Beef Checkoff also provides continuous education for cattle farmers and ranchers who are employing the most innovative animal welfare and conservation practices, leading to long-term sustainability for the farming and ranching way of life. It’s these activities that benefit agriculture and consumers that animal rights groups despise. These activities are the reasons animal rights groups have worked so hard to gain the support of Sen. Booker and Lee to harm checkoff programs.

The activist groups supporting the OFF Act claim to be helping America’s farmers and ranchers but, in reality, they are highly sophisticated, well-funded animal rights extremists seeking to put farmers and ranchers out of business. Their goal is to end the production of animals for food and fiber. Sen. Lee has turned his back on Utah ranchers in favor of supporting these animal rights activists.

Join us in telling Senator Lee that he must reconsider his support of the OFF Act.

Colin Woodall is CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Colin Woodall is CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.