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NFU Calls for New Direction for Beef Checkoff

03 December 2014

US - The time has come for the funding of the US National Cattlemen's Beef Association through the beef checkoff to change

This is the view of US National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson who has called for a new direction for the checkoff programme.

Mr Johnson (pictured) has made is plea for a change in direction in an Agri-Pulse guest column.

At eh same time the NFU president praised Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for seeking public comment on how to strengthen and modernize the outdated program.

“The checkoff programme as we know it today has remained virtually unchanged for three decades while the world around it has morphed dramatically,” said Mr Johnson.

“This has raised serious doubts about the structure of the checkoff and whether it is capable of appropriately funding the much-needed research and exploring the new markets and new opportunities that the American beef industry so desperately needs. Clearly, the beef checkoff is in dire need of a major course correction.”

Mr Johnson said that the current checkoff’s need for change stemmed from the fact that it is both underfunded and unacceptably inflexible.

He offered principles to guide adequate reform of the program under the Commodity, Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996.

“The modernised beef checkoff should be a single programme, modelled after the 1996 Act,” said Mr Johnson.

“It would have a clear separation of the policy organisation from the non-political, promotional checkoff entity… exclude processors and importers from positions of leadership, ensuring that beef producers are always at the helm… and be precluded from allocating a single dime to any organisation engaged in lobbying.”

“The idea of bringing new ideas and much-needed change to the checkoff is nothing new, and in fact, organisations like NFU met for three years discussing a new direction,” said Mr Johnson.

“But the meetings were a bridge to nowhere, because they were largely controlled by the organisation that has a vested interest in making sure the current structure never changes. That organisation, of course, is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).”

Mr Johnson also noted that NCBA’s motivation for obstructing each and every idea should have been predictable, considering over 97 per cent of all Beef Board contracts went to the NCBA, and the organisation relies on the current programme for a vast majority of its funding.

“NCBA regards the checkoff as its own personal financial trough and will do everything possible to cement that status into eternity,” said Mr Johnson.

"Clearly, NCBA wants to protect its turf and its income stream, but its days of living off the checkoff slush fund need to come to an end.”

Johnson commended Secretary Vilsack for stepping into the fractured discussions of the beef checkoff working group and allowing industry stakeholders to submit comments on ways the checkoff should be reformed.

“Finally, other voices and new ideas will be heard and given thoughtful consideration,” said Mr Johnson.

“Finally, after three long, frustrating years, meaningful structural change is actually a real possibility.

“The beauty of our democracy is that programmes like the checkoff can be regularly scrutinised, fine-tuned or reformed. Recognising that the success of the checkoff is an integral part of the success of rural America, let us work together to move this programme forward. The promise of tomorrow relies on the changes of today.”

TheCattleSite News Desk

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