Conservative policy organizations and media outlets continue to characterize a producer-funded promotion effort as an Obama administration tax on Christmas trees.
In 2011 growers asked the Department of Agriculture to establish a 15-cent assessment for every tree sold, with the money going to a fund to promote the purchase of real, as opposed to fake, Christmas trees.
Many commodity and livestock groups have government-sanctioned assessments to fund research and promotion efforts. These “checkoff” programs pronounced beef the dinner entree of choice, proclaimed pork the other “white meat” and produced dozens of slick print ads featuring milk-mustachioed celebrities under the “Got Milk” banner.
When notice of the proposed fund hit the Federal Register, critics of the administration quickly dubbed it a tax on Christmas. Already reeling from charges from rural interests that its policies were assaulting farmers and ranchers, the administration nixed the checkoff.
It resurfaced, thanks to Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., in the farm bill passed by Congress and signed by the president last week. Critics have picked up on it as one of many things they don’t like about the bill, but the assessment is now the law of the land.
We admit that we were long befuddled why growers who wanted to create a fund to cooperatively promote their product needed the USDA to first put its stamp on the enterprise and launder the money. Then we found out that only promotion efforts created with USDA oversight are immune from lawsuits filed by consumers and other parties alleging collusion and unfair practices.
That’s too bad. We would prefer government have no role in these types of arrangements.
Though we are reluctant to pick the lesser of evils between trial lawyers and bureaucrats, it appears to be the only way farmers can pool their money in their common interest.
Our imagination is too limited to envision how Madison Avenue might market so seasonal a product. But if they can make California raisins dance, the possibilities are endless.