NFU pulling out of Beef Check-off reform talks
By Daniel Enoch
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2014 - The board of the National Farmers Union has voted to pull out of a working group seeking changes in the beef checkoff, calling the process a “waste of time and money,” and urging USDA to step in and reform the system.
“After three years of pushing for real reforms in the beef check-off program, NFU has decided that the process has become a bridge to nowhere,” NFU President Roger Johnson said in a news release. He said it had become clear that unnamed “key players” among the negotiating groups were unwilling to allow real reforms to take place.
Negotiators have been seeking agreement on a plan to double the size of the checkoff to $2 per head of cattle sold, with the funds going to programs to promote U.S. beef domestically and overseas. State organizations keep half of the current $1 per head assessment, with the rest going to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board (CBB), which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.
In a resolution adopted by the NFU board over the weekend, NFU said the CBB must be given the authority to carry out checkoff projects on its own, similar to other checkoff oversight boards. It also said the CBB must be allowed to enter into checkoff contracts with non-policy organizations and private companies, such as ad agencies and public relations firms, “in order to prevent policy-driven organizations from using checkoff dollars to fund overhead for political activity.”
Further, it said the checkoff must be completely refundable” and that a referendum on the continuation of the checkoff must should be held every five years.
The working group includes representatives from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the American Farm Bureau Federation, U.S. Cattlemen, the Meat Importers Council of America, the National Livestock Producers Association, the Livestock Marketing Association and the American National Cattle Women.
Established by the 1985 Farm Bill, the checkoff has allocated a total of about $182 million in fiscal years 2009 through 2013 to its contractors to pay for projects related to promotion, research, consumer information and overseas marketing, with promotion accounting for most of the spending. As the biggest contractor, NCBA controlled all but about $2 million of those funds.
In mid-August, after an NFU legislative committee recommended that the NFU withdraw from the working group, NCBA said the nation's cattle producers should be cautious about disrupting a system that has worked for years.
“(NCBA) will continue to work with other industry organizations to look for ways to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the (checkoff) program,” NCBA President Bob McCan said. “However, we should be careful about jeopardizing a beef checkoff that has overwhelming support from producers and is having a terrific success domestically and internationally.”
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