Groups Question Beef Checkoff
By Jerry Hagstrom, DTN Political Correspondent July 14, 2011 (available on the web)
WASHINGTON (DTN) — The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Farmers Union are calling for federal intervention in the management of the beef checkoff following the resignation on Sunday of Cattlemen’s Beef Board chairman Tom Jones and the resignation on June 29 of CEO Tom Ramey.
The Cattlemen’s Beef Board manages the beef checkoff, a research and promotion program funded through a mandatory assessment of $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products.
Jones, an Arkansas cattle producer, wrote in his letter, “this program is broken.”
That letter provides “strong evidence that the Secretary of Agriculture and Congress must intervene in the national mandatory beef checkoff before the program suffers irreparable harm,” U.S. Cattlemen’s Association President Jon Wooster said in a news release Wednesday.
The Agriculture Department is keeping an eye the program in light of recent developments, a USDA spokesman said in an email to DTN. “USDA continues to monitor the concerns raised by some regarding the national beef checkoff program,” the spokesman said, adding that an inspector general’s audit is being conducted.
The management of the beef checkoff has been the subject of controversy for years, particularly because the Beef Board has contracted with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a beef membership group that also lobbies on livestock policy, to carry out most of its responsibilities.
Disputes between the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have magnified in recent years since talk began over whether to increase the checkoff from its $1 per-head fee. The rift became more exposed after NCBA proposed a new governance structure last year that overlapped NCBA’s policy division and Federation of State Beef Councils into one voting board. Outside groups opposed the plan, and the CBB also stated that it would be better if the federation became a separate organization from NCBA. Yet, the federation has voted to remain part of NCBA.
The controversy has also intensified in recent years as NCBA has worked on a new governance structure and questions have been raised about the legal firewall required between lobbying and checkoff activities. There have also been allegations of financial improprieties in the management of the program. Audits of NCBA found executives were using checkoff dollars to fund trips for spouses and other spending lapses. The CBB has been trying to expand its audit of NCBA spending, and NCBA has resisted.
Farmers Union stated in a memo to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and USDA officials last week that there should be “a complete separation” between NCBA and the beef checkoff program. http://dld.bz/…
In his resignation letter, Jones, of Pottsville, Ark., said he was resigning partly due to his father’s illness, but he added, “My wife has had to put up with all of this crap going on, and she deserves better. With Dad’s illness, my farm needs more of my attention.”
Yet, Jones added, “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. … I have never in my life seen as much public defamation and misrepresentation as I’ve seen lately. … 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 often are based on the desire for money and power. … I was a policy guy when I came on this board. I thought I could use that experience to make a difference. All it did was to show me how clearly this program is broken.”
Jones’s resignation letter (PDF) can be read at http://dld.bz/…
In the news release, U.S. Cattlemen said they believed NCBA was behind the resignations, and noted that Wooster had asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a July 1 letter to investigate the situation.
NCBA President Bill Donald said in a statement that, “As a rancher myself, I understand the difficulty in balancing volunteer leadership, family and business. … We respect and understand Tom’s decision to spend time with his father.”
“We maintain optimism that the checkoff can move forward to serve the men and women that invest in it,” Donald continued. “NCBA remains committed to working diligently as a proud contractor of the checkoff with a high degree of accountability. Producers deserve the best and we intend to do our part to promote, build and defend U.S. beef demand. ”
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org