So many of you have written wanting to understand the dynamics that have created the tug of war between the Cattlemen’s Beef Board Executive Committee vs. the Federation of State Beef Councils and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). The big question is how a program intended to help everyone and build the U.S. beef industry has evolved into the frontline for internal political struggles? How can such small minorities be engaged in power struggles to the detriment of the entire industry?

Explaining this embarrassing and disheartening situation is difficult. In part, it’s a war based on personal agendas and power struggles between groups. Meanwhile, no one is willing to talk openly about what’s transpired. Ultimately, it is no different than the situation in Washington, D.C., – you may not agree with the direction, but you’re hesitant to take on anyone with the power of the purse or the audit.

If I were a political cartoonist, I’d illustrate the situation this way: I would have two driverless chuck wagons, one representing NCBA and the other the checkoff, heading for a cliff, with about 10 little dogs running along behind encouraging the process. The dogs would represent those factions that seem to think they will benefit from the controversy.

This tug of war dominated the hallway discussions among cattlemen prior to and during the national convention in Denver last month – enough so that it created a palpable tension in the convention meeting rooms. It was the proverbial 800-lb. gorilla in the room that everyone essentially ignored in public.

But this isn’t an issue that is going away; it is growing. If it isn’t resolved, we’ll severely hurt our industry’s voice at a time it needs strength.

I hesitate to say this because the volunteer leaders in our industry are, as a whole, such great people. But when I left the convention, it was hard for me not to believe some in the leadership don’t want to fix the problem because they enjoy the fight too much.

I’m complicit in that. I’ve been hesitant to write about all the terrible things that have transpired, partly because I didn’t want to risk the overall program. The sad reality, however, is that we’ve seen a lack of integrity, severe breeches of ethics, bad behavior and mistakes made. As an industry, it’s time to ask ourselves why and how we got here and how we can fix it.

Perhaps we’ve avoided these questions because the answers aren’t that appealing, especially for all those folks who have invested so much in the development of the checkoff and NCBA. But it’s time to halt this process before it significantly harms the industry. Maybe a referendum is needed, but the bottom line is that it’s time the industry reasserts some semblance of control over the checkoff and sends the message that the checkoff needs to remain focused on the job of building beef demand.

It is a dilemma that will require real leadership to resolve. I won’t discuss all the insidious plots and communications that have been part of the backroom political maneuverings – and they have been extensive and well documented. It won’t serve the good of the industry.

But it’s amazing to me how a few small-minded people can create such havoc. We need to build beef demand, and we must have one organization that creates policy and deals with industry issues. The need is real and growing.

Ninety-nine percent of everyone involved with these organizations, from volunteer leaders to staff, are some of the greatest people in the world. It’s not ideas that we lack, but failed implementation. Perhaps it’s time we take a hard look at how the implementation of those ideas can be improved. The results remain positive but we are kidding ourselves if we believe they will continue under the circumstances that now exist.