Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Where is the dairy checkoff report to Congress? (Update)

Despite a requirement in federal law to submit an annual report to Congress, the dairy checkoff program has not yet produced the report for July 2010 or July 2011, both of which are now long overdue.

Because earlier requests for a copy of the July 2010 report had been turned down by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in September for the two most recent missing reports.  However, AMS turned down the request today, saying that the material was classified as "pre-decisional" and "deliberative."  The AMS response said that the reports were still in USDA clearance, and that the 2010 report will be released shortly.

The Dairy Production and Stabilization Act of 1983 (.pdf) says:
Not later than July 1, 1985, and July 1 of each year after the date of enactment of this title, an annual report describing activities conducted under the dairy products promotion and research order issued under this subchapter, and accounting for the receipt and disbursement of all funds received by the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board under such order including an independent analysis of the effectiveness of the program.
Likewise, USDA's Dairy Promotion and Research Order (.pdf) requires the agency:
To prepare and make public, at least annually, a report of its activities carried out and an accounting for funds received and expended.
The dairy checkoff program uses the federal government's power of taxation to collect a mandatory assessment of more than $390 million per year from farmers, in order to support research, promotion, and advertising activities, such as the "Got Milk" campaign.  The checkoff program promotes increased high-fat cheese consumption through support for fast food pizza marketing campaigns.  The program's management corporation, Dairy Management Inc., boasts of the fast food collaborations.  Notwithstanding the tension between these advertisements and healthy dietary guidance, every checkoff program message is endorsed by the federal government (in legal terminology, the advertisements must be approved as "government speech").

I think dairy farmers and the public deserve more timely transparency in this federal program, which is vastly better funded than anything the federal government does to promote healthy eating.

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