Five Questions with Anne Anderson of Cattlemen’s Beef Board

Anne Anderson is a cow-calf and stocker operator from Austin Texas and a former executive vice president of the Texas Beef Council. Anne also is a co-founder and former CEO of AgInfoLink Global.

A message from Anne Anderson: I would first like to extend a note of thanks for allowing me to be a part of this discussion with your readers. Our beef checkoff truly is a grassroots producer-led organization, and I would like to see a higher level of engagement from more of our investors. That said, I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to share the beef-checkoff story with Farming Magazine readers. The more time cattle farmers and ranchers spend reading and staying informed, the more confident they can be about the programs into which they are investing.

What are some of the biggest issues that the Cattlemen’s Beef Board face in the industry?

Spending shrinking dollars in the most effective way, even if it involves change. We’ve gradually made changes, but research says the opportunity for growth comes in maintaining the domestic market we have and opening new global markets. Especially in light of a growing beef supply, price fluctuations and the economics of the industry, your checkoff leaders work constantly to make the right decisions for everyone involved.

What is the primary goal or function of the checkoff? How beneficial is the checkoff to the industry?

The Beef Checkoff Program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. The checkoff assessment became mandatory when the program was approved by 79 percent of producers in a 1988 national referendum vote.

The checkoff is collected by qualified state beef councils, which retain up to 50 cents on the dollar. The state councils forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which oversees the national checkoff program, subject to USDA review. The 100 members of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board represent all segments of the beef industry, including beef, veal and dairy producers, as well as cattle and beef importers, and are nominated by industry organizations and appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

The checkoff program was designed to stimulate our partners at retail and foodservice to sell more beef and stimulate consumers to buy more beef. This can be accomplished through initiatives such as consumer advertising, marketing partnerships, public relations, education, research and new-product development.

By law, checkoff funds cannot be used to promote particular breeds or brands without prior approval from the Beef Board Executive Committee and USDA, nor can they ever be used to influence government policy or action, including lobbying.

Results matter to me, in my business and as chairman of the Beef Board. That’s why it is important that I share our results with you. In the most comprehensive study ever rendered about the Return on Investment (ROI) of beef checkoff assessments, Dr. Harry Kaiser of Cornell University concluded that each dollar invested in the Beef Checkoff Program through the Cattlemen’s Beef Board between 2006 and 2013 returned $11.20 to the beef industry.

This tells me that the benefits of all CBB’s checkoff-funded programs are 11.2 times more valuable than their costs, and as a cattle producer who pays into the program, it’s heartening to know that my investment is making a difference. Wouldn’t it be incredible to get that kind of return on all of our investments?!

There are other countries promoting the awareness of U.S. Beef. How does the checkoff help promote or publicize that?

An increasing percentage of the Beef Board budget is going to foreign marketing, to take advantage of the endless opportunities in the global marketplace. Between 2008 and 2016, the percentage of funding managed by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), contractor to the beef checkoff, increased steadily from 10.7 percent to 18.6 percent in this 2016 budget. And, it is likely that we will see this trend continue, given the emphasis on export growth necessary to achieve the goals of the new beef-industry Long Range Plan.

Since the checkoff’s inception, producers have invested a total of $132.7 million into foreign-marketing efforts.

Beef exports accounted for 13 percent of total 2015 production and 10 percent for muscle cuts only – each down one percentage point from a year ago. We currently export beef to more than 80 countries, and export value per head of fed slaughter averaged $277.87 during 2015, another return that inspires us.

There are studies that link obesity and sustainability with beef. How does the Cattlemen’s Beef Board help the public with understanding the truth?

Through the first half of the 20th Century, preventing nutritional deficiencies was the focus of nutrition guidance from public health groups and government agencies. But that changed 40 years ago, when public-health policy shifted from what was not in the diet that should be included to what was in the diet that should not be included. With more choices in the food supply, it became important to avoid the overfed/undernourished paradox.

In the 1977 Dietary Goals for the United States, Americans were encouraged to increase their carbohydrate consumption and decrease their fat consumption to improve their health. The Dietary Goals failed to recognize the important role that protein plays in the diet, and therefore failed to emphasize recommendations for protein consumption.

Case Study:  Our checkoff was actively involved in every opportunity to provide scientific information to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) – beginning in December 2012, when the checkoff nominated eight qualified scientists for appointment to the DGAC.

All told, the checkoff submitted 17 sets of comments to inform the DGAC about beef’s role in a healthy diet, like that found in the Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet research. These comments covered all aspects of the science to support beef and red meat in a healthy dietary pattern.

DGAC published its scientific advisory report in early 2016, at which time the policymaking process began, and only those non-checkoff industry groups and individuals allowed to influence public policy could continue with comment.

Where We Are Today: The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for America affirm the role of lean beef in a healthy diet and confirm that Americans are, on average, consuming meat, including beef, at levels consistent with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. Based on the new Dietary Guidelines, the beef checkoff will continue helping people understand how to enjoy lean beef as part of a healthy dietary pattern. Our goal is to help people think about balanced diets with beef from the portion sizes and cuts they choose to options to how they pair lean beef with other foods, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, in a healthy meal.

But how do we continue to help the public understand the truth about protein, fat, obesity, nutrition, how we actually produce beef, and more? Thanks to our checkoff, all the tools are in place to safeguard beef producers and the beef industry from misinformation, from misinformed sources, as well as continue to encourage a more open and direct dialogue between those who produce beef, and those who eat beef.

In addition to sharing accurate information constantly through Facts About Beef, our checkoff works on a daily basis to help consumers understand how we raise beef and uses the truth to educate consumers before misinformation reaches the public. And if we educate in advance, our checkoff is at the ready to respond with facts and science immediately when myths are purported.

Also understand that the checkoff’s market-research efforts are a critical part of our information outreach. That research helps us understand what issues are on consumers’ minds and combines with a tremendous amount of digital and social ‘listening’ and tracking to open a transparent conversation, understand, real-time, what consumers are talking about when beef issues – or misinformation – arise and, ultimately, answer the questions that they have.

How do you think the Cattlemen’s Beef Board will evolve 10 years down the road?

We will see the checkoff continue to invest in research activities and in the communication of those research results. Education will have to be more targeted toward thought and opinion leaders; and promotion will be primarily online.

Five Questions is a monthly series that discusses industry-related topics with the people who influence the industry.