Monday, July 11, 2011

Coup d'etat in the beef industry: Tom Jones resigns as chairman of Cattlemen's Beef Board

Tom Jones resigned this week as chairman of the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB). This follows the resignation of Tom Ramey as CEO two weeks ago.

The CBB oversees the beef checkoff program, which uses the federal government's power of taxation to collect $70 to $80 million in mandatory assessments or taxes each year from beef producers, for use in research and promotion activities such as the advertisements with the slogan, "Beef. It's What's for Dinner."

The real power behind the throne has long been the industry's private-sector trade association, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), which serves as the principal contractor to the CBB, receiving most of the checkoff money, and which simultaneously controls most decision-making for the program.  The CBB had tried to re-organize the checkoff program to provide more accountability, but the NCBA opposed these changes.

The industry trade press has mostly been absent from duty.  The Rod Smith article for Feedstuffs about the Ramey resignation ignores the multi-million dollar questions about financial management, but spends whole paragraphs on an accusation that Ramey listened in on a conference call to which he was not invited.  That seems to me like a trivial matter.  Smith's brief today editorializes that Jones "was also caught up in the apparently now-failed maneuvers by the board's executive committee to restructure how beef checkoff programs are approved and funded by trying to pull the Federation of State Beef Councils out of the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA)."  I imagine most beef producers must be appalled at the anti-reform spin and will seek their information elsewhere.  Won't somebody in the trade press give this story the real investigation it deserves?  Or will it all be swept under the rug?

In his resignation letter today, Jones cites family concerns and also writes:
I am so sorry to the members of this Board who truly want what’s best for every producer.  Keep doing the right thing.  Doing what’s right is all that matters.  Some board members put their allegiance to their chosen association before their oath of obligation to serve all producers who pay the checkoff.  This is a dangerous position to take.  The checkoff program could benefit from positive change and it is difficult to work for that when your allegiance causes you to wear blinders to the change that is needed.  It will also be impossible to defend those attitudes if or when this program is challenged.

I have never in my life seen as much public defamation and misrepresentation as I’ve seen lately.  I know many of you as friends.  This kind of behavior is beneath us as people of agriculture.  When I see that kind of action, I look for the real purpose behind it.  More often than not, that purpose is fear – fear of change, fear of the future.  Fear may cause someone to want to hide the true issues, which are often based on the desire for money and power.  My resignation from this Board certainly won’t solve all of the issues before the Board.  You still have a lot of work to do and empty calls for “getting along” won’t get you anywhere.
The Agwired coverage mentions Jones' family reasons for resigning, but did not include these two sharp paragraphs. There is extensive coverage of recent events on the independent beefcheckoff blog.

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