32 groups call for investigation into unlawful use of checkoff funds
March 20, 2015
Billings, Mont. – Today 32 groups sent a letter urging U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the chairmen and ranking members of both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate agriculture committees to reject the newest proposal to double the assessment rate for the federally mandated Beef Checkoff Program and investigate the group's allegation that Beef Checkoff Program funds are being used unlawfully to support the rate increase.
On Friday the U.S. Department of Agriculture- (USDA-) sanctioned Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (Industry Working Group) announced that it had reached an internal agreement to begin lobbying for the rate increase.
The rate increase was recommended by the Beef Checkoff Program's Federation of State Beef Councils (Federation), an organization that is funded by the Beef Checkoff Program and prohibited from using checkoff funds to lobby for rate increases.
The letter by the 32 groups alleges that the Federation has engaged in unlawful lobbying activities by actively recommending that U.S. cattle producers support the Industry Working Group's proposal to increase the checkoff assessment.
The 32 groups' letter also expressed frustration regarding Vilsack's refusal to address the "offensive and glaring conflicts of interest" within the Beef Checkoff Program and his inaction on their collective desire to amend the program to allow U.S. farmers and ranchers to begin promoting their exclusively USA beef.
In support of their conflicts of interest claims, the 32 groups state that the primary recipient of Beef Checkoff Program funds, the National Cattlemen's Beef Assocation (NCBA), controls the entity that decides how funds will be spent; uses funds to offset its organizational costs; and, is accorded a distinct lobbying advantage by aligning itself with the positive brand identification associated with the well-known Beef Checkoff Program.
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To restore the purpose of the Beef Checkoff Program to that of being an equal and non-ideological benefit to all producers, the 32 groups urged government officials to:
Enforce the prohibition against conflicts of interest in contracting and all other decision-making operations of the Beef Checkoff Program.
Enforce a prohibition against the Beef Checkoff Program contracting with organizations that engage in policy-oriented activities.
Require a legally independent Federation, without affiliation to NCBA or any other private entity.
The 32 groups that signed the letter include state, regional and national organizations that directly represent the interests of cattle farmers and ranchers who are currently required by law to pay $1 for every head of cattle they sell to the national Beef Checkoff Program. Also included is a national group representing consumers who are the targets of the Beef Checkoff Programs marketing efforts. The groups include:
American Agriculture Movement; American Grassfed Assn.; Ashtbaula Geauga Lake Counties Farmers Union (OH); Buckeye Quality Beef Association, Inc. (OH); California Farmers Union; Cattle Producers of Louisiana; Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Assn.; Family Farm Defenders; Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance; Food & Water Watch; Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska; Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming; International Texas Longhorn Assn.; Missouri Farmers Union; Missouri Rural Crisis Center; Missouri's Best Beef Co-Operative; Murray County, Oklahoma, Independent Cattlemen's Assn.; National Association of Farm Animal Welfare; National Farmers Organization; National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Assn.; Nebraska Farmers Union; Nebraska Women Involved in Farm Economics; Nevada Live Stock Assn.; Northern Plains Resource Council; Northern Wisconsin Beef Producers Association; Ohio Farmers Union; Organization for Competitive Markets; Powder River Basin Resource Council; R-CALF USA; Rocky Mountain Farmers Union; South Dakota Stockgrowers Assn.; and, Western Organization of Resource Councils.