Extension granted for checkoff referendum signatures
The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, granted an extension on the one-year deadline for gathering signatures of cattle producers who desire an up or down vote on the Beef Checkoff. With the added time, the signatures will be due Oct. 3, 2021.
The deadline was granted to granted the South Dakota Livestock Auction Markets Association and Steve Stratford of Kansas, who initiated the referendum in July of 2020.
Reva, South Dakota Angus and Red Angus producer Vaughn Meyer, who served on both the South Dakota Beef Industry Council and also the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, said that because of COVID challenges, he would have liked a longer extension, but he hopes all producers can be made aware of the petition.
The petition must be signed by a minimum of 10 percent of the number of cattle producers nationwide. According to USDA 2017 census data, 882,692 cattle producers exist, which means 88,269 eligible signatures will be needed on the petition in order to propel USDA to carry out a referendum (a vote on whether or not to continue the Beef Checkoff) of producers nationwide. A recent R-CALF USA news release said that online petition at http://www.checkoffvote.com has gathered about 18,790 thus far.
Meyer believes that the Beef Checkoff is outdated and is not serving the needs of the US cattle producer. “The Checkoff isn’t supposed to be used for lobbying purposes but it was always said that if we want changes, we need to get those changes to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. I tried to make changes on the South Dakota Beef Industry Council and also on the CBB, but those suggestions never made it to the Secretary of Agriculture. If we can’t make changes to the Checkoff, we need the referendum so we can start over with a new Checkoff that will go out and fight for born, raised and slaughtered in the USA beef,” he said.
Meyer also points out that protein choices have changed significantly since the inception of the checkoff. For one thing, the introduction of non-animal-derived protein, known as “fake meat,” veggie burgers, or lab-grown meat.
“If the American cattle producer is going to survive, we need to be able to fight back. That fake stuff is eating our lunch,” he said.
Greg Henderson, the editor of Drovers magazine, recently commented in his editorial that with the recent rise in beef prices, including ground beef prices, “fake meat” suddenly seemed more affordable. “…Retail beef prices have risen in the past year…making fake meat…easier and less expensive,” he said. “That helps bring down the cost of soy and pea-protein meats faster,” Henderson went on.
Meyer said the Checkoff needs to step into the fray. He said groups and private entities promoting alternative proteins are claiming to be better for the environment, which he doesn’t beleive to be true. “They are using falsehoods against us and we need to be able to fight back,” he said “It’s driving us out of business and we didn’t put the checkoff in to drive us out of business.”
The South Dakota Beef Industry Council, for one, is working to improve consumer perception of beef as it relates to other proteins.
“We recognize that consumers have a choice every time they walk through the grocery store/restaurant door so we always try to think about what we can do to increase their confidence in our product which will in turn maintain and/or build demand for beef. Our product is a real and wholesome product which if you go by our billboard near Sturgis you will see a sample of our “Make Mine Real Beef” campaign,” said Suzy Geppert, the organization’s Executive Director.
“The Build Your Base with Beef program also works to highlight and educate athletes about beef in the diet and how including quality protein like beef can help them both achieve success on and off the field and instill healthful lifestyle practices that last them a lifetime. Once again creating confidence in our product. I think this has a twofold effect as it not only works to educate them but also incorporates beef into their diet. We provide them multiple tools including menu plans aimed for families and athletes. We also provide comparison data to consumers in regards to nutrient profiles and also highlight that beef is a wholesome protein that comes to them naturally and outside of a lab. It also acts as a very important upcycler of protein as it converts inedible proteins into the high quality meat product they feed their families,” said Geppert.
Meyer would also like to see the Beef Checkoff stop contracting with organizations. “It could drop all contracts with organizations and go to private individuals and entities. Then we would see some real competition and we would probably see some efficiencies that would be the equivalence of doubling the checkoff,” he said, pointing out that the biggest contractor, NCBA kept over 46 percent of the funds it was awarded in 2019, for “implementation fees,” while the other contractors keep around 20 percent.
Leo McDonnell, a Montana rancher who also served on the CBB, said he is frustrated with the fact that the Beef Checkoff has never been used to promote USA beef in the United States, even though the Beef Checkoff promotes “USA” or “American” beef in foreign countries.
Although both the CBB counsel, Wayne Watkinson and the CBB CEO Greg Hanes told TSLN last October that the Beef Checkoff can, indeed, promote USA beef in the USA if the proper hoops are jumped through, USDA officials had previously testified under oath and been quoted in news stories stating that the Beef Checkoff, as written, could not promote USA beef in the United States.
“It’s not the Beef Act that’s the problem, it’s really a labeling issue,” said Watkinson last October in a TSLN interview.
“If we had a process in which beef was labeled as US beef, and there were regulations relating to the labeling of US beef, would we be able to promote that (with Beef Checkoff dollars)? There is that possibility, yes,” said Watkinson.
“I’m not saying there is a prohibition on promoting US beef, I’m not saying that. It has to be the right circumstance with the right labeling requirements. We can do brand advertising. We do some name brand advertising, we have done that in the past. But there is a process you have to go through, you have to submit the program at CBB and they need to approve it and then USDA would look at it.” The Beef Checkoff has partnered with Hardees, Krogers, Tyson and others for marketing projects in the past, he said.
As far as promotion of USA beef in foreign markets, Hanes said in an October, 2020, interview, that he considers all beef processed in the USA to be USA beef. So, even if the cattle originated from another country, the product becomes USA beef when processed, according to current law.
Watkinson has not responded to recent questions e-mailed from TSLN.
Since 1985, producers, feeders and importers through their mandatory $1 per head contributions to the Beef Checkoff have funded the development of the famous “Beef it’s whats for Dinner” slogan utilized in numerous ad campaigns, funded studies to help reduce pathogens in retail beef, funded recipe development, discovered the flat iron steak, and several other unique cuts of beef, educated consumers as to beef’s health benefits and economic impact, and financed many other promotion, research and education projects.
Although Meyer doesn’t believe he’s getting the bang for his buck that he’d like, the CBB reports online that for every $1 invested, the Beef Checkoff returns $11.91 to beef industry producer profit. However, Hanes reported to the North Dakota Beef Commission this spring that the ROI study determined that $11.91 per $1 invested has been returned to the industry as a whole, not specifically to beef producers.
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A strong fat lamb market offers producers hope after the Covid pandemic and the sale of a major lamb plant coupled with the bankruptcy of a marketing cooperative sent the market into turmoil in 2020.