National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

The Market Access Program is under fire again, and one opponent has given it the moniker "Treasure MAP."

This time, the chief fire starter is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. His office put out a news release yesterday describing a "new oversight report" on MAP. From the news release:

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) today released a new oversight report, “Treasure MAP: The Market Access Program’s Bounty of Waste, Loot and Spoils Plundered from Taxpayers” highlighting more than $2 billion in taxpayer dollars indirectly subsidizing the advertising costs of some of the most profitable agriculture companies and trade associations doing business overseas.

You will recognize many of these company brands as household names, such as Welch’s, Sunkist, and Blue Diamond. Despite their combined $2 billion in sales in 2009, Treasure MAP shows how these companies received more than $6 million in 2012 from taxpayers for product promotion.

Also receiving millions from taxpayers for private overseas advertising are the agricultural trade groups whose members include Tyson Foods, Purina, Hershey’s, Georgia-Pacific and Jack Daniels. With a multitude of other agriculture, and fiscal priorities facing our nation, this report shows it is time to reduce funding for the Market Access Program (MAP).

“At a time when we are cutting funding for our troops, taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the filming of Reality-TV shows in India, wine tastings for foreign journalists, pet food advertising, and even to advertise pet shampoo anymore,” said Dr. Coburn. “We need to make tough choices.”

Among the key findings, the report exposes:

• Blue Diamond Growers almond company has received more than $28 million from MAP since 1999 to market its almonds overseas.

• Reality TV fashion and design show in India, Let’s Design, received $20 million.

• One of the world’s biggest sellers of fresh fruit, Sunkist Growers, received $34.1 million since 1999.

• California raisin growers received $31.7 million since 1998 to promote branded image California Raisins, internationally.

• A company specializing in organic hair products for dogs, cats, and horses, including “Boost! Volumizing Spray” and “Freeze! Hair Hold” hair sprays for dogs, Espree Animal Products, receives MAP funds to boost sales in the U.S. and overseas.

Examples of overlap and duplication:

• Prunes and plums are already directly targeted for assistance by USDA through the California Prune Board ($3.6 million, 2010) and the California Tree Fruit Agreement ($2.5 million, 2010), the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association ($9.6 million, 2010) brags in a recent association newsletter that “CropSource International of Walnut Creek, CA has been a part of the WUSATA’s Branded Program since 2004, when they received $50,000 towards marketing their Sunsweet® brand prunes and prune juice in New Zealand (NZ).” The Organic Trade Association, a MAP funded organization, also promotes dried plums.

• The Popcorn Board, funded by USDA at more than $250,000 annually, promotes American popcorn and related products. Similarly, Food Export, USA ($11.2 million, 2012) recently assisted a Nebraska-based gourmet popcorn maker with sales in Japan.

To read the full report, click here.

TK: Another lawmaker taking swings at the MAP is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. In a rant-filled floor speech yesterday, McCain beat up on MAP and other farm bill programs.

One of 300 farm bill amendments or so, Coburn's farm bill amendment on MAP is below. Besides taking $40 million from the $200 million annual funding, the amendment offers some grandstanding with its explicit exclusion of "animal spa products" and "reality television shows.

The amendment:

SA 2289. Mr. COBURN submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill S. 3240, to reauthorize agricultural programs through 2017, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:

    On page 293, strike lines 16 through 19, and insert the following:


    Section 211(c) of the Agricultural Trade Act of 1978 (7 U.S.C. 5641(c)) is amended--

    (1) in paragraph (1)(A)--

    (A) by striking ``and'' after ``2005,''; and

    (B) by inserting ``, and $160,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2013 through 2017'' after ``2012,''; and

    (2) by adding at the end the following:

    ``(3) PROHIBITION ON USE OF FUNDS FOR CERTAIN ACTIVITIES.--None of the funds made available to carry out this subsection shall be used for--

    ``(A) wine tastings;

    ``(B) animal spa products;

    ``(C) reality television shows; or

    ``(D) cat or dog food.''.

TK: We don't know if this amendment by Coburn will even be included in the Senate debate, or if the farm bill debate will proceed. 

Supporters of MAP have been able to make a convincing case up until now that export promotion is needed  more than ever, objections to animal spa products and Indian reality television shows notwithstanding.

"Both the Coalition to Promote U.S. Agricultural Exports and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives strongly oppose the (Coburn) amendment," said  Justin Darisse, director of communications at the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

Darisse said the MAP program has a 35 to 1 return on investment and is critically important for the ability of the U.S. exporters to compete with subsidized exports from other countries. "The arguments are really on our side."

In addition, he said that Coburn's objections to individual funding decisions would crimp the creative marketing efforts in overseas markets.

The industry should be able to hold on to MAP, but it is obvious Coburn, McCain and others will use the program to grandstand if the amendment is approved for floor debate.