The president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says the Beef Checkoff is functioning well, but if producers want to vote on it they should.
“For more than three decades, cattle producers have accomplished great things for the industry by working together to direct these investments,” said NCBA President Marty Smith. ”From improvements in beef safety, successful marketing programs to new product development, the Beef Checkoff has a long track record of solid returns for each dollar invested. Beef producers should be proud of that work and we believe that a majority of cattlemen and women stand behind the program.”
USDA received notice of the petition requesting a referendum on the Beef Checkoff program on July 2. It was supported by 25 livestock auctions and several cattle associations and individual ranchers.
The checkoff was established in the 1985 Farm Bill and assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic cattle and imported cattle.
Checkoff assessments in 2019 totaled $42.7 million, and $41.9 million was spent on promotion and research, according to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, which with USDA oversees checkoff funds.
The checkoff has drawn criticism over the years, including the NCBA’s role as the largest contractor for programs.
NCBA received $37.7 million in reimbursement in 2019 for checkoff program expenses, including $8.3 million for subcontracts with the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
“In the 1980s, NCBA was instrumental in the initial passage of the Beef Promotion and Research Act and the resulting referendum that established the Beef Checkoff as we know it today,” Smith said. “The Act makes it very clear that cattle producers have a say in the continuation of the checkoff through a grassroots petition process.”
However, he seemed to question the way critics are gathering signatures.
“NCBA fully supports the producers’ right to have their voices heard on the future of the checkoff,” Smith said. “(W)e also believe the petition and signature gathering processes should be transparent and conducted with integrity.”
In a July 22 letter to petition organizers, USDA Deputy Administrator Jennifer Porter warned against inappropriate activity.
The Agricultural Marketing Service “has been provided evidence that indicates producers will be entered into a drawing to win $100 in exchange for sharing a post that encourages signing the petition,” she said. “This action calls into question the integrity and validity of the process you are using to collect signatures. Monetary inducement is improper.”
She promised that “...USDA will apply additional scrutiny to petition signatures obtained through an online platform and will consider whether any signatures have been obtained subject to improper influence or coercion.”
“If evidence of such activity surfaces, we may be unable to perform our verification function and the petition will fail,” she said.
Smith said he supports a referendum if that’ what producers choose.
“NCBA trusts cattle producers to make the right decisions for our industry, so if some producers feel they need to sign a petition calling for a vote on the Beef Checkoff, then they should sign. If enough sign, then we should vote,” he said.
“We are confident that a vote by those who invest and direct their hard-earned dollars will again show strong support for this program and will finally allow our industry to put this issue behind us.”
The petition requires 88,269 valid signatures submitted by Aug. 1, 2021, for USDA to consider conducting a referendum.