Monday, July 18, 2011

Reactions to beef checkoff upheaval

The U.S. agricultural industry continues to react to the recent upheaval in the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB), the federal government's checkoff program for research and advertising to promote beef.

Larry Dreiling writes in the High Plains / Midwest Ag Journal:
Even though Cattlemen's Beef Board Chairman Tom Jones and CEO Tom Ramey have resigned in the aftermath of an eavesdropping scandal, there's still plenty of concern from several state livestock groups that the scandal has eroded the very purpose of the CBB.
The National Farmers Union suggested a complete separation of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Beef Checkoff Program:
It is impossible to build a firewall strong enough when you have one organization that picks the members of the committees that make all of the funding decisions for the checkoff and are also involved in program evaluations. The ongoing firewall breaches are no longer allegations, but have been proven in a compliance audit review that has uncovered multiple financial irregularities and misappropriations of checkoff funds.
The U.S. Cattlemen's Association -- a competing trade association without the NCBA's heavy reliance on federal checkoff money -- published an editorial on Friday:
On July 1 the United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA) formally requested that the Secretary of Agriculture initiate a full investigation into circumstances surrounding the expanding contractor financial irregularities within the national mandatory beef checkoff as well as those circumstances surrounding the resignation of the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB) CEO. Since then, unfortunately, circumstances have grown even more serious with the resignation of the CBB Chairman, Tom Jones. It is unprecedented in beef checkoff history for the CBB chairman and chief executive officer to have been driven out of office. As USCA president, I want cattle producers to understand what USCA has discovered and what is behind USCA's decision to ask for the Secretary's intervention. Please become engaged in this very important process because what happens in the next few weeks will directly impact the future of the beef checkoff.
I spoke today (.mp3) with Don Atkinson, the farm news editor for the Voice of Southwest Agriculture (VSA), which is part of the Clear Channel radio networks, providing farm news coverage through affiliates in Oklahoma, Texas, and several other states. I have no idea what beef producers will want do next, but it does seem like the program needs to be changed. Cattlemen might want to convert the program to a private-sector program with voluntary contributions, or they might want to accept greater oversight and greater separation between the federal program and the NCBA.  Either option seems more reasonable than the status quo.


Anonymous said...

When did the beef checkoff program start? What other commodities currently use check-off programs/assessments for marketing and promotion?

usfoodpolicy said...

Here on USDA's website is the history and background on the beef checkoff program. The program was established by Congress in the late 1980s, and a referendum was held at that time among beef producers. In the late 1990s, up to 80,000 beef producers asked for a new referendum, but this was not a sufficient number under federal rules. So, the last official referendum was more than 20 years ago. When the website says the program was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005, it refers to a lawsuit in which the federal government said and the Supreme Court agreed that all the advertisements are "government speech" and easily recognized by the public as government messages.