Halley’s Comet paid a visit, the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl accident shocked the world and President Ronald Reagan approved sweeping revisions of the U.S. tax code. The year was 1986, and among the news that directly affected beef producers was implementation of a $1-per-head assessment on cattle sold to fund a nationwide effort to increase demand for beef.

Established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill, the checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, as well as a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. It became mandatory when the program was approved by 79 percent of producers in a 1988 national referendum.

The national Beef Checkoff Program is administered by the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board (Beef Board), with oversight provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Qualified State Beef Councils collect the dollar and retain control of 50 cents for use in-state and for programs identified as critical by producers in those states. The other 50 cents is remitted to the Beef Board, which contracts with national non-profit cattle organizations to implement demand-building national and international programs.

Not without its share of controversy, the Beef Checkoff Program survived a challenge that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, it created innovative and memorable consumer advertising, produced thousands of mouthwatering and nutritious recipes, and drove research that helped make beef safer.

"Our accomplishments are legendary and viewed by many others in agriculture as standards by which to measure success," says Cattlemen's Beef Board Chairman Jay O'Brien, a cattleman from Amarillo, Texas. "At the same time, we're a stronger program as a result of the challenges we've been through."

O'Brien points to the "Beef. It's What’s For Dinner®" campaign as evidence of the checkoff program’s far-reaching triumphs. The campaign started in 1992 and will reach 94 percent of adult consumers an average of 14 times in 2006. Studies on advertising effectiveness showed that 79 percent of those seeing the ads said that, "Beef is a food I would have a hard time giving up."

Research also has been critical to the accomplishments of the checkoff, according to O'Brien. The number of positive E. coli O157:H7 ground beef samples was reduced 80 percent between 2000 and 2005, he says, partially due to checkoff-funded research in harvest facilities. And information programs that addressed the great, naturally nutrient-rich qualities of beef and its safety made consumers more confident in their beef purchases, he added.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the national Beef Checkoff Program Oct. 1, program representatives set out to identify 20 key checkoff accomplishments that have made a distinct impact on beef demand. The top 20, listed alphabetically, include:

Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. Consumer ADVERTISING has made beef even more memorable. Research shows that more than 80 percent of people surveyed recognize the "Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner®" ads, with the familiar voice of cowboy actor Sam Elliott, backed by Aaron Copeland’s captivating Rodeo music. Some ad campaigns lose their punch after a couple of years, but this one is still running strong on radio and in print after nearly 14 years.

Beef Nutrition. Checkoff-funded RESEARCH has confirmed that, calorie for calorie, lean beef packs a punch. A nutrition parity study between beef and chicken revealed that a 3-ounce cut of lean beef has, on average, only one more gram of saturated fat than the same size serving of a skinless chicken breast. After that, there's no comparison. That 3-ounce serving of lean beef delivers eight times more vitamin B12, six times more zinc and three times more iron than the chicken. Beef, one of nature’s most efficient foods, has been proven effective in aiding weight loss. And 29 beef cuts now meet government guidelines for lean. That's good nutritional news for a country battling obesity.

Beef Quality Assurance. This program has helped certify 60,000 producers on herd management practices that can make or break final product quality. BQA INFORMATION set the quality bar through fed steer/heifer and cow/bull audits, which began to show significant drops in several common areas of pre-harvest injury that can de-value the carcass. Helping producers learn how proper herd management directly impacts the consistency, tenderness and marketability of beef has been a major BQA success. For example, damage from injection site lesions dropped from 22% of all top butts to less than 3% in recent years. The BQA program also gives producers input from importers, foodservice and retail channels about beef product positives and problems.

Carcass Value. Checkoff Muscle Profiling RESEARCH has improved carcass value by creating new products from previously underutilized muscles in the chuck and round. New checkoff-funded products include the Beef Value Cuts, which have contributed to a $60- to $70-per-head increase in the value of the chuck since 1998. Now the Value Cuts, which include the Flat Iron and Ranch Cut steaks, join convenient, heat-and-serve products that help make the most of the beef carcass. And research into even more new products continues.

Consumer Confidence. BSE made U.S. headlines in late 2003, but thanks in part to beef checkoff-funded efforts, consumers were reassured about the safety of the U.S. beef supply. INFORMATION programs helped maintain consumer confidence levels – which rose as high as 91 percent after the first case was discovered in the United States.

Dairy Coordination. Dairy producers are also beef producers and pay the checkoff, too. So cooperation between the two industries is essential. Dozens of delicious dishes combining beef and dairy appear regularly in checkoff-funded recipe resources, such as beefitswhatsfordinner.com Web site and The Healthy Beef Cookbook. In 1991, the beef checkoff partnered with the American Dairy Association to promote "Double Cheeseburger Days," a point-of-purchase PROMOTION at 24,000 U.S. retail outlets. Targeting college students and other consumers, this promotion generated $22 million in positive exposure—at a cost to the beef industry of $1.7 million.

E. coli O157:H7. The U.S. beef industry has invested more than $20 million in checkoff funds since 1993 to battle continuing challenges created by E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens. Due in part to these RESEARCH and implementation efforts, incidence of E. coli O157:H7 was reduced 80 percent in the past five years – surpassing goals set by the government in this area, six years ahead of schedule.

Food Communications. Behind-the-scenes work to provide editors with recipes, photos and beef information is a checkoff INFORMATION effort that reaches consumers more than 1 billion times a year through newspapers, magazines, cookbooks and Web sites. The checkoff’s very own culinary center aids the effort with recipe development and program support.

Foodservice Partnerships. Partnerships with foodservice entities have earned great visibility for beef through savvy checkoff investment. A 2005 PROMOTION with Boston Market helped introduce new sirloin items to the 630-store chain, previously known for its chicken entrees. During the last five years, the checkoff allocated about $2 million to foodservice partnerships, with restaurant partners investing nearly $123 million.

Foreign Marketing. During the first 10 years of the checkoff, beef exports nearly tripled. The United States lost 72 of its 133 foreign markets following a December 2003 BSE case. By mid-2006, however, 50 of those markets had reopened and checkoff dollars immediately went to work to regain our market share.

Instrument Assessment Plan. Hit-and-miss beef quality is not acceptable, so reaches the consumer. A National Beef Instrument Assessment Plan helped generate information about how to measure such factors as intramuscular fat, subcutaneous fat and meat tenderness and provide the consumer with a predictable, pleasurable eating experience.

Market Basket Survey. A 1987 checkoff-supported survey of beef marketing showed that beef contained 27 percent less fat than just a few years earlier. This INFORMATION, which also showed that beef trim had been reduced to 1/8-inch, was featured in a USDA news briefing and video news release sent to 600 TV stations, providing significant positive exposure for beef.

Market Research. Continuing RESEARCH helps the industry monitor the attitudes and actions of customers. Market intelligence has helped drive development of beef products that are fast, convenient and meet consumers’ expectations for a tender, delicious meal. Market research is at the heart of current efforts to roll out a handheld beef product in the near future that is kid-friendly and mom-approved.

National Beef Cook-off. Amateur cooks nationwide submit hundreds of recipes for the biannual National Beef Cook-Off. This PROMOTION event, funded in part through the checkoff, provides thousands of opportunities for publicity. Media coverage for the 2005 Cook-off generated more than 2,300 placements, equaling 357 million media impressions.

New Product Promotion. The checkoff’s BEEFlexible PROMOTION helped move 103 million pounds of Beef Value Cuts through foodservice channels last year, putting the new products on the menu in some 20,000 U.S. restaurants. On the retail side, 5,000 supermarkets sold value cuts in 2005, up from just 321 in 2003.

Nutrition Partnerships. Checkoff partnerships with the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the American Heart Association (AHA) help make a difference in how health influencers and consumers perceive beef. The Healthy Beef Cookbook was produced via a checkoff INFORMATION partnership with the ADA in 2005 and generated 80 million impressions in consumer media in its first six months on the market.

Retail Assistance. A checkoff-funded PROMOTION planner and merchandising guide, first introduced in the late 1980s, along with training sessions and the Beef Made Easy program materials, have helped retailers become more savvy beef and veal marketers.

Summer Grilling Promotion. The checkoff launched this annual PROMOTION five years ago and powers it via combined state and national checkoff funds, as well as promotional funds from high-profile retail partners. In 2005, grilling cuts accounted for more than 67 percent of beef sales during the summer, driving beef sales up 3.7 percent on a dollar basis over 2004 numbers.

Youth Education. In 2005, beef checkoff INFORMATION highlighted the role of beef in a healthy diet to "tween" girls. Checkoff-funded materials went to 35,000 teachers; 80,000 girls participated in the checkoff’s Fit for a Princess Girl Scout patch program. 10,000 copies of Choose Well, a healthy grade school curriculum, were sent to teachers in summer 2006. Choose Well is produced in partnership with the ADA, as part of its Healthy Families, Healthy Kids initiative.

Veal Possibilities. The checkoff funded veal PROMOTION began in 1997 to reach both retail and foodservice outlets. A new tagline, Veal. Explore the Possibilities, and a strong go-to-market strategy strive to help veal find a new audience among casual diners, as well as the traditional fine-dining aficionados.