THERE'S an unspoken rule in making public presentations: Never begin with an apology; the audience will perceive it as a sign of weakness or incompetence.
The same probably holds true for written columns, but I'm going to break that rule. That's because I've written several columns on The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in recent months. This one adds to the list, hence my apologies at the outset for any perception of needless repetition, but sometimes, the inconsistencies just can't be overlooked.
First, some background. A few years ago, there was some hubbub over the dairy checkoff. It largely began with a New York Times article criticizing a newly forged promotional venture between Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and Domino's Pizza ("While Warring about Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales").
The article notes that "as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino's, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day's maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories. ... (DMI) is a marketing creation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods (DMI) is vigorously promoting."
That coverage led to the media piling on. Yet, it was all a misrepresentation. That is: (1) taxpayer dollars do NOT promote dairy products — producers do, and (2) DMI is NOT an agency of USDA.
DMI responded accordingly, saying, "Efforts to misrepresent this program, and the federal government's role in administering the program, are an unfortunate and unacceptable assault on the hard work and dedication of America's dairy farmers."
Now, HSUS is seemingly trying to stir that same pot using the same tired argument. A recent article in Reason, "One Pizza, with Extra Federal Handouts," written by an HSUS employee (who shall remain nameless here), follows an interesting parallel, asserting that "dairy producers supplying that bed of cheese for our pizzas benefit tremendously from federally supervised programs that spend millions of dollars to 'get people to eat more pizza.' That's right. As the First Lady encourages us to eat healthier and get active, the Administration is at the same time signing off on a dairy checkoff program that spends millions urging Americans to pick up another slice of Three Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza Extreme. Do national pizza chains really need federal freebies?"
That's an obvious distortion of checkoff programs and does nothing more than rehash the 2010 New York Times article. It gets even more convoluted and inconsistent, though, because Reason actively promotes free markets.
Appropriately (albeit in conflict with the above argument), the HSUS pizza article also states that "most businesses operate under established economic laws. They produce enough to supply what demand there may be, and if they want to try to increase demand, they drum up business through the normal routes, like advertising."
Correct. Checkoff programs, for all commodities, were largely established to allow producers to benefit by aggregating dollars to create meaningful promotion.
It's impossible to reconcile the two perspectives penned by HSUS. On one hand, the article touts free markets and generating demand — hence the producer-supported checkoff — but on the other hand, it misrepresents the checkoff as a "federal freebie."
In 2010, the Washington Post made a similar mistake. In its zeal to disparage the checkoff, it inadvertently made a case for such programs, writing: "Dairy farmers are perfectly capable of buying their own advertising. ... And shoppers are perfectly capable of deciding whether they want more cheese or not."
That's precisely what's happening!
We'll never know why the dairy checkoff is a source of so much misunderstanding and consternation among critics, but it doesn't really matter. The free market is clearly at work. Consumers are actively voting (with their dollars) in favor of the dairy industry and its products. For that, no apology is needed.
*Dr. Nevil Speer serves as a private industry consultant. He is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and can be reached at [email protected]