Beef Checkoff Recommendations Raise Controversy

May 24, 2010 07:00 PM

Roger Bernard, Farm Journal Policy & Washington Editor

Controversy. It's the latest development relative to the beef checkoff program. And USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is warning National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) Governance Task Force recommendations relative to the beef checkoff program may raise problems for the program.

In fact, the USDA chief in a recent letter that the Task Force recommendations raise "serious concerns" as they appear to weaken the firewall between the checkoff program and the policy programs run by NCBA. He also warned the group that if they don't put these firewalls in place, it may violate terms of the law that governs checkoff activities.

Specifically, Vilsack told NCBA President Stever Fogelsong the following in the letter:

To ensure proper use of funds and oversight activities, any restructuring of NCBA that impacts the Federation of State Beef Councils (Federation) must include the following firewalls:

  • The Federation must be an independent organization. This requirement does not prohibit the Federation from contracting for its administrative or other services with other organizations. This requirement is consistent with the structure and administration of other checkoff programs where there is a clear distinction between policy organizations and checkoff programs.
  • All funding decisions relating to checkoff activities must be made only by the Federation and Cattlemen's Beef Board, and not policy organizations.
  • The Federation's members who serve on the Beef Promotion Operating Committee are to be nominated and elected only by the Federation.
  • Federation members must not vote on policy matters, nor be required to purchase a seat to a body that votes on policy. Checkoff funds cannot be used to purchase a seat in any policy organization.
  • Regardless of structure, policy organizations should not be permitted to influence, determine outcomes, or vote on checkoff decisions.
  • AMS (USDA's Ag Marketing Service) has statutory and regulatory oversight of the Federation and the Board.
  • Failure to implement all of these firewalls would raise serious legal concerns as to whether the restructuring complies with the provisions of the Act and Order.
"Producers and importers, including yourself and your fellow NCBA members, must remain confident that the monies contributed to the Beef Checkoff program are being used in the most effective and appropriate way, and in conformity with the requirements of the Act and the Order," Vilsack stated.

NCBA leaders said they will be discussing the matters raised by Vilsack in a meeting this week in Washington.

Click here to read USDA's letters to NCBA officials. 

Click here to read NCBA's response.

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