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LET Checkoff funds story in Dec. 30 issue was wrong

The Dec. 30th story "Checkoff funds will continue" is totally inaccurate.

It said that a state law passed in Iowa last year will force livestock producers to continue paying the beef checkoff even if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the national program. In reality, if the national mandatory beef checkoff is declared unconstitutional (a very real possibility), the state checkoff will probably be unconstitutional as well.

Here's why: the state program passed last year is a mandatory-refundable program. A "refundable'' checkoff is still a mandatory checkoff.

Without our consent, the fee is taken from us and used by an organization we don't wish to support, and for purposes that very often are against our interests. Even if refundable, the farmer loses the use of the funds for a period of time while the commodity group that receives the checkoff gets to use our money.

In addition, refunds are often problematic -- how often do they occur, and what work is involved to get our money back? How many forms would be required to fill out?

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If the refund process is monthly, there is a significant amount of work and hassle each month to get back what may be a moderate amount of money -- say $40 or $75 or $100 per month for a family farmer. If it is yearly, then the commodity group gets the use (and the farmer loses the use) of the money for a whole year or more (depending on the length of the refund process).

Since 1998 members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Campaign for Family Farms have been leading the national fight to end the mandatory pork checkoff program, which is also in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. We oppose all mandatory checkoffs -- refundable or nonrefundable -- and agree with the federal courts that have declared mandatory checkoffs unconstitutional.

We support virtually any checkoff program which is voluntary at the point of sale -- in other words, a checkoff in which a farmer decides to "check-off'' an amount of money to contribute to a research or promotion fund at the time the farmer sells his/her product.

This is the only way checkoff programs can work. The corporate agribusiness commodity groups that benefit from checkoffs need to understand that their gravy trains are coming to an end!

-- Mark McDowell, Hampton, Iowa

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