USDA conducting review of American Egg Board alleged misconduct

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2015 -USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) is conducting a “thorough administrative review” of issues involving the American Egg Board following reports that Chief Executive Officer Joanne Ivy tried to persuade Whole Foods to stop selling a type of mayonnaise made without eggs called Just Mayo.

Ivy, who had been head of the Egg Board since 2007, reportedly stepped down at the end of September after emails were published in which she is said to have told a consultant that she would “like to accept your offer to make that phone call to keep Just Mayo off Whole Foods shelves.” In March, the Egg Board said Ivy planned to retire at the end of the year.

Lets Talk Food

Whole Foods continues to sell the Just Mayo product, made by a San Francisco startup called Hampton Creek.

Just last week. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack calling for an investigation into the checkoff-funded board, based in Park Ridge, IL.

Lee expressed concern about AEB's alleged anti-competitive campaign against Hampton Creek's “Just Mayo” vegan mayonnaise.

“Recent news reports have brought to light a series of emails, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that contain compelling evidence that [American Egg Board] leadership, including the Egg Board's President and CEO, may have violated the federal laws and administrative regulations governing checkoff programs,” the letter reads.


Lee, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, said “the 600 pages of correspondence suggest that members of the AEB staff, USDA officials, and top executives from the egg industry engaged in a strategic, multifaceted campaign to use the power and resources of the federal government to undermine the economic prospects of Hampton Creek, based on their fear that the food start-up's product, Just Mayo, represented a “crisis” and a “major threat” to the egg industry,” the letter continues.

In addition, Lee asked Vilsack to justify the existence of the AEB.

“If these Great Depression era institutions have outlived their purpose, and if evidence suggests they behave like state-sponsored cartels that intimidate and handicap their competition, should Congress continue to authorize them,” the letter asks.

The Egg Board is one of about 20 so-called “checkoff” organizations, operating under the oversight of USDA, which are allowed to raise funds from producers for use in research and product promotion, such as the “incredible, edible egg” campaign. It consists of 18 members and 18 alternates from all across the country appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture. Attempts to reach AEB officials for comment on Sunday were unsuccessful.

USDA's review involves a substantial amount of material, and “while AMS expects to complete the review in an expeditious manner, a complete review will take some time,” explained a USDA spokesperson.


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“By law, USDA is charged with providing oversight to all Research and Promotion programs, including the American Egg Board. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) carries out the day-to-day oversight of boards, ensuring fiscal accountability, program integrity, and fair treatment of participating stakeholders,” noted USDA's spokesperson. “While AMS approves a wealth of board materials and communications, AMS does not pre-approve the content of every email of a board member or board staff member, nor are these individuals USDA employees.” 

The spokesperson added that “USDA strongly supports agriculture, including promotion of products within the scope of pertinent rules and regulations, and is committed to establishing a level playing field that protects and promotes all appropriate agricultural endeavors. AMS does not condone any efforts to limit competing products in commerce.”

 

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