Regarding Troy Marshall’s Oct. 3 item, “Manadatory COOL & The Checkoff Marry Up” (beefmagazine.com/cowcalfweekly/1003-mandatory-cool-checkoff-marry/), I was hoping people would embrace Sen. Jon Tester’s interest in enhancing the beef checkoff instead of feeling threatened by the idea. Marshall is just plain wrong about some things.
The settlement in the Livestock Marketing Association v. USDA beef checkoff lawsuit called for an independent survey of thousands of cattle producers across the country. The findings of the Gallup survey (www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5058490) were not surprising to most of us. An overwhelming number of the 8,000 producers surveyed said they wanted the Beef Act changed in very specific ways. Some of the results are addressed in Tester’s "Beef Checkoff Modernization Act of 2008."
Tester’s bill answers producer concerns in many areas. His legislation doesn’t "resurrect the checkoff battle." If legislation addressing the survey results is passed by Congress it will end “the battle.” Making the checkoff more transparent and accountable will likely result in more producer support for an increase in the per head assessment. If the Beef Act isn’t modernized, no one is optimistic about producer support for any increase.
The accusations of the timing of this legislation being a result of distorted intentions aren’t true. The process was started a couple of years ago by the late Jim Hanna, a well respected and proactive cattle-industry leader. Jim studied the changes producers asked for and found ways to improve the beef checkoff.
He attended the Checkoff Task Force meetings sponsored by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). He was disappointed by the task force process and felt the results of the exercise lacked the real, needed changes the Gallup survey suggested were favored by producers. Just months before the onset of his illness in 2008, Hanna was working closely with Tester’s office on developing the ideas and language in Tester's legislation. The industry lost a great leader when Jim passed away, but his work lives on through the possibility of checkoff enhancements being implemented.
Marshall writes that the checkoff program has "already taken steps to increase access to bidding for checkoff dollars." However, at the most recent Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) meeting, the budget for the American Cattlewomen’s Authorization Request to hold the National Beef Cook-Off was reduced by $225,000 and the National Beef Ambassador Program was cut altogether. The National Livestock Producers Association’s (NLPA) subcontract with the CBB to provide the Beefmobile was eliminated resulting in NLPA being terminated as a checkoff contractor altogether. That leaves NCBA as the winning bidder of more than 90% of CBB-allocated dollars.
The 1985-enacted Beef Act language precludes any organization established after 1986 from competing for checkoff contracts. It’s time to change that because there are other organizations that could and should be contracting for checkoff funded work. Increased competition for checkoff contracts will only improve the services provided, which will benefit those who pay the bills.
Whether producers like NCBA or not, many feel that a policy organization shouldn’t be so closely linked to a mandated producer-funded assessment program. Among other suggestions, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has suggested CBB have the ability to contract directly with the companies doing the work so there is more efficiency and no conflict of interest.
Holding a referendum on the checkoff will hold CBB decision makers accountable. That same referendum could be used for cattlemen to vote on enhancements to the checkoff, such as an increase in the assessment. It’s not a waste of funds to provide a democratic voice for those who foot the bills.
I do agree with Marshall about one thing. COOL does relate to globalization and value-based marketing. If the U.S. beef industry wants to remain competitive, we’d better begin with the largest beef market in the world – the U.S. – and we’d better start working together to accomplish that competitive edge.
Marshall attempts to reduce these public debates about improving the checkoff to a "feud" or an "internal vendetta." I believe the legislation brought forth was an attempt to enhance the program by advancing ignored ideas and to promote our product – U.S. beef – not to start a feud. Rather, it’s just good business.