Meet the Beef Checkoff’s Million Dollar Man

Big Beef Is Covering Its Tail

As more voices join the call to reform corrupt checkoff programs, the beneficiaries of checkoff funding are scrambling to protect their slush fund. 

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) — the primary contractor for the beef checkoff — gets 70% of its funding from checkoff fees paid by ranchers. To defend this source of funding from any inconvenient reform efforts, NCBA routinely points to studies that claim large return on investment (ROI) figures for the checkoff: more than $11 for every dollar paid into the program. 

We’ve got some bones to pick with these ROI figures. First of all, if the checkoff has been netting cattle ranchers massive returns, why did we lose 43% of our independent family producers — a rough average of 15,000 per year — between 1985 when the checkoff was established and 2017?

Furthermore, the studies NCBA likes to cite use retail prices in their calculations, which means those figures are majorly inflated. No farmer receives retail prices when selling livestock.

Even a federal watchdog agency has expressed skepticism of these evaluations in the past: The Government Accountability Office found that checkoff ROI evaluations lack consistency and have “methodological limitations” that can “overstate the programs’ benefits.” 

Still, NCBA loudly touts this rate of return as a benefit of the checkoff, as if ranchers are the ones making $11.91 for every dollar they pay in. But if you actually read the studies, that return on investment amount is actually referred to as “beef industry producer profit” — meaning that it is multinational corporations like Tyson and JBS reaping all that profit, not the ranchers paying into the program.

The Million-Dollar Man

So who is behind these misleading ROI evaluations? Meet Dr. Henry Kaiser, Big Beef’s go-to economist-for-hire. He’s well-paid for this work, having received (in his own words) “over a million” dollars in personal profits from the checkoff, and multiple millions in additional support for his research that supports the checkoff’s value. 

But even though that money came out of ranchers’ pockets, Kaiser has admitted that his studies only measure whether the checkoff increases beef consumption — not how it impacts producers.

Kaiser even acknowledges his limitations in his own fine print, stating, “it is almost certainly true that not all demand and supply drivers have been accounted for in the model.” A statistician might call this “biased research.” The rest of us might call it “junk.”

R-CALF USA (a group representing independent cattle producers) has just conducted a study of its own, revealing that the generic advertising funded by the beef checkoff communicates to consumers that all beef is the same — whether it was raised regeneratively on U.S. soil by a family farmer or churned out cheaply abroad and imported by a multinational meatpacker. These findings confirm that the checkoff benefits the biggest multinational corporations at the expense of our own family farmers and ranchers.

It All Comes Back to the NCBA

Here’s what we think: Dr. Kaiser knows full well which side his bread is buttered on. NCBA’s found their guy, and are willing to give him more than a million in ranchers’ dollars to justify their chokehold over the industry.


The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (OFF Act) would restore transparency and accountability to checkoff programs, and keep them out of the hands of organizations that lobby on agricultural issues. With just a few clicks, you can visit our political partner Farm Action Fund and tell your representatives to co-sponsor the OFF Act.

Written and edited by: Dee Laninga, Angela Huffman, Christian Lovell, and Joe Maxwell. Concept by: Angela Huffman and Joe Maxwell.