R-CALF USA: NCBA’s new proposal fails to fix the broken cattle tax

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Farm Forum

Billings, Mont. — Despite the departures of both R-CALF USA and the National Farmers Union from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sanctioned Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group, all of the checkoff contractors, led by principal contractor, National Cattlemens’ Beef Association (NCBA), and four other contractors, along with three remaining industry groups recently finalized a proposal designed to increase the national Beef Checkoff Program’s current mandatory assessment of $1 per head of cattle sold to $2 per head of cattle sold.

“This new proposal is window dressing designed to deflect attention away from the NCBA’s misappropriation of over $216,000 in producer dollars and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s failure to maintain the integrity of the program,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

“The national Beef Checkoff Program has become a USDA-supported cattle tax that helps the NCBA fight against policy proposals beneficial to independent farmers and ranchers as exemplified by the NCBA’s ongoing litigation and congressional lobbying effort to eliminate the widely popular country-of-origin labeling for beef,” Bullard added.

An in-depth investigative report into the Beef Checkoff Program by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Mike McGraw and journalist Peggy Lowe published January 18 in The Kansas City Star and available at http://bit.ly/1E6QMYj reveals how independent family farmers and ranchers are disenfranchised by the Vilsack-managed cattle tax.

Bullard explained that the new proposal contains no structural reforms to eliminate the ongoing conflict of interest in which the NCBA houses, owns and controls the Federation of State Beef Councils (Federation) and the Federation, in turn, controls at least half the votes needed to successfully and consistently award the lion’s share of checkoff dollars to the NCBA, which has enabled the NCBA to effectively control the Beef Checkoff Program for decades.

Bullard further explained the proposal would perpetuate the practice of awarding checkoff dollars to advocacy groups that then use the cattle tax to offset their administrative costs, freeing up thousands if not millions of dollars with which to lobby for their own special interests.

According to documents R-CALF USA received via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Vilsack helped establish the private, Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (Industry Group) in 2011 by officially assigning a top level, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employee, Dr. Craig Morris, to assist the Industry Group.

After the Industry Group teamed up to oust R-CALF USA’s representative from its ranks in 2012, Vilsack issued a written denial that he had sanctioned the Industry Group. Vilsack instead indicated that his agency’s role was only to provide educational presentations. However, in his official November proposal published in the Federal Register to establish a new beef checkoff program, Vilsack’s leadership role was described as that of directing the Industry Group to reconvene their meetings and appoint a facilitator.

“Vilsack’s favoritism toward the NCBA and its industry allies is demonstrated by his ongoing support of the Industry Group that rejected R-CALF USA and his refusal to even meet with R-CALF USA to discuss our group’s concerns and suggestions regarding the Beef Checkoff Program.

“We believe Secretary Vilsack’s inaction following disclosures by the independent accounting firm that indicated the NCBA had breached the Beef Checkoff Program’s financial firewall has spoiled any opportunity for our group to achieve meaningful checkoff reforms.

“R-CALF USA, which is the largest producer-only, national cattle trade association in the United States, has been marginalized by Vilsack’s inaction and the Industry Group, ostensibly led by the NCBA, has been empowered to continue pursuing its self-interests without the burdens of accountability,” Bullard concluded.

R-CALF USA is urging the rejection of the NCBA’s proposal and continues to urge Vilsack to fulfill his responsibility to the U.S. cattle industry by putting an end to the conflicts of interest that now permeates every level of the Beef Checkoff Program.