USDA calls for input on new beef checkoff

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2014 - The Department of Agriculture is asking for public input on a new beef checkoff, furthering plans announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in September.

USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service said today they are asking for public comment in order to “guide its development” as it works to create a new beef checkoff. AMS expects the notice to appear in the Federal Register on Monday, and interested parties will have until Dec. 10 to provide comment.

"Beef industry representatives agree that this important program needs more resources. USDA is stepping up at a critical juncture to help achieve the industry's goal," Vilsack said in a release. "With this action we can boost research investments, increase beef exports, and encourage folks here at home to support American beef producers."

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Plans to create this checkoff were revealed to members of the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) Sept. 30 in a meeting at Vilsack's office. This checkoff will be in addition to the current checkoff, which is an assessment of $1 per-head of cattle sold.

As a way to increase the resources being fed into the beef industry's promotion and education efforts, the BCEWG was working to improve the beef checkoff - which has been largely unchanged since its creation in 1985 - through a variety of ways such as an increase in the assessment and changes in governance of checkoff funds. After three years of meetings yielded little consensus on important issues, Vilsack announced intentions to create a parallel beef checkoff governed under general commodities legislation passed in 1996 since the 1985 beef checkoff legislation requires congressional, not administrative, action for any approved changes.

AMS will seek comment on a variety of contentious issues, most notably the involvement of the State Federation of Beef Councils. Many in the BCEWG were concerned with the direct affiliation between the State Federation of Beef Councils, an organization that plays a role in the allocation of checkoff funds, and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the checkoff's largest contractor. Language in the 1996 Act does not explicitly mention the inclusion of state commodity organizations, but it also doesn't contain language excluding organizations like the State Federation of Beef Councils.

Vilsack's newly created parallel checkoff is being built from the ground up, meaning input is being sought on decisions ranging from fund collection and governance to the amount of the assessment and even who should be assessed. AMS says it will be seeking public comment specifically on the following issues:

1. Who should be assessed?

2. What should be the board structure?

  • Who is eligible to serve?
  • Should there be a relatively large delegate body appointed by the Secretary that would elect and recommend from within itself a smaller board?
  • What should be the size of the board?
  • What should be the term of office?


3. How should the board be selected?

  • Who may nominate eligible candidates to serve?
  • What should be the nomination and selection process?


4. What should be the powers and duties of the board?


5. Who has decision-making authority?

  • Should funding decisions be made by the full board or a smaller body elected from within this board?
  • Should funding decisions be made in conjunction with other organizations such as the Federation of State Beef Councils or the current Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board?


6. How should the assessment rate be determined?

  • Should the assessment be a specified amount, a percent of value, or an amount determined by board?
  • If a specified amount or a percent of value, should there be provisions for adjustments to the rate by the board, and without subsequent producer referendum?
  • Should there be a de minimis exemption for certain size operations or classes of cattle or beef?
  • Should there be temporary or permanent provisions for refunds of assessments?


7. How should assessments be collected?

  • Should the States or the national board collect the assessment?
  • Should be assessment be levied at all points of sale, at slaughter, or at some other time?


8. When should the referenda be conducted? 


Those seeking to comment may do so by submitting comments online starting Monday or sending them via mail to Beef Promotion, Research, and Information Order; Research and Promotion Division, Room 2096-S; Livestock, Poultry and Seed Program; AMS, USDA, STOP 0249; 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.; Washington, D.C. 20250-0249.

Vilsack told BCEWG members in September that he hopes to have the new checkoff in place by December of 2015, giving USDA just over 12 months to interpret comments and draft a new order.

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