Talks are starting among cattle and meatpacker groups over possible changes to the beef checkoff.

The American Farm Bureau Federation hosted a meeting Tuesday in Washington for several groups to explain their individual policies and review recommendations laid out in January to the U.S. secretary of agriculture by the Cattlemen's Beef Board to change the Beef Promotion and Research Act. Most of the changes proposed by the CBB would require an act of Congress to alter the law.

The beef checkoff is a $1 per-head assessment cattle producers pay when they sell an animal. Money goes to promotion and research for the beef industry, which has led to campaigns such as "Beef, It's What's For Dinner," as well as the development of the flatiron steak. The fee has not changed since Congress approved the act in 1985, and the spending power of the money collected has declined with inflation since then. Further, the beef herd has declined and the industry has restructured, so there are fewer checkoff dollars being generated by sales.

Cattle and meatpacker groups have their own policies on what should happen with the checkoff. Mississippi cattle producer Joel Gill, chairman of R-CALF's checkoff committee, said Tuesday's meeting helped lay out where individual groups stand on making possible changes to the checkoff.

"There was a free flow of ideas in the room," Gill said.

Participants at Tuesday's meeting were asked not to release too many details about the specific conversations or items discussed. Texas cattle producer Chuck Kiker, who represented the U.S. Cattlemen's Beef Association at the meeting, said the meeting ended with the understanding that the industry would hold further talks about how to change the checkoff.

Other groups present Monday included the American Meat Institute, American National Cattlewomen, Livestock Marketing Association, Meat Importers Council of America, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Farmers Union and National Meat Association.

Last October, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., sponsored the "Beef Checkoff Modernization Act" that would require as much as 30 percent of checkoff dollars go to promote beef from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. The bill also would require a period referendum on the checkoff as well.

The Cattlemen's Beef Board, which is not permitted to lobby on issues, approved recommendations in January asking the U.S. secretary of agriculture to begin seeking changes in the law. The CBB would like to see checkoff fees raised to $2 per head and give the CBB authority to increase the assessment up to $3 per head. The recommendations included fee exemptions for sales of $50 or less. Other recommendations included possible referendums on the checkoff every seven years as well as loosening requirements about which organizations could apply to contract for checkoff dollars. The CBB did not choose to recommend changes allowing for promotion dollars to be dedicated for U.S. beef promotions.