Cattlemen across the country are trying to head off USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack from commandeering the national beef checkoff program and establishing a supplemental checkoff program they say would increase government control of the industry-guided promotional program.
On Tuesday, 45 state cattlemen’s associations sent a letter to Vilsack stating their concern with his attempt to single-handedly reform the checkoff in a move that would disregard the current checkoff’s grassroots structure and strong state/national partnership. Voicing his frustration with the three-year failure of the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) to find consensus in amending the program, Vilsack announced his intentions at a meeting with BCEWG members on Sept. 30.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and its state affiliates contend the proposed supplemental program would take control of the program out of beef producers’ hands, jeopardizing grassroots involvement through state beef councils, and add government bureaucracy and costs to a program that is largely supported by industry.
Vilsack’s plan would establish a new checkoff program under the 1996 Commodity Research and Information Act to run concurrently with the current program established in 1985.
One of the main objections is that the 1996 act does not provide for involvement by qualified state beef councils, which collect checkoff assessments and represent cattlemen on national checkoff committees making decisions about checkoff operations and allocations.
NCBA and its state affiliates believe any enhancement of the checkoff program should be done through the 1985 Beef Promotion and Research Act, which is beef specific and put together by producers, said NCBA President-Elect Philip Ellis, a Chugwater, Wyo., cattle producer in an NCBA audio released on Tuesday.
The 1985 act was formed “by cattlemen for cattleman and controlled by cattle producers,” he said.
It took three attempts to establish a checkoff program cattlemen could support, and the program — passed in a 1988 referendum — has proved a successful model to follow, he said.
The 1996 act is a top-down, federal order by the federal government that will create bureaucracy, as opposed to the grassroots structure of the current program, he said.
The 1996 act gives much more control to the federal government, giving it the power to establish the size and makeup of checkoff governing boards and whether or not the program should even exists, the state associations said in their letter.
“We do not support giving the Federal Government ongoing power to change industry fortunes through agency Orders and executive actions with no industry input,” the letter stated.
The state affiliates, strong, grassroots reaction and message to Vilsack demonstrate the widespread concern over the secretary’s intentions and opposition to a supplemental checkoff under the 1996 generic act, Ellis said.
An emailed response from USDA’s office of communications on Tuesday stated:
“Secretary Vilsack is only discussing this action because the industry has not been able to agree on a path forward for 3 years. The Secretary has made clear that if the industry is finally able to reach consensus on a path forward, USDA action is likely not necessary.”