R-CALF USA’s Checkoff Committee today formally thanked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for his letter to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) which expressed his concerns about the restructuring recommended by the NCBA Governance Task Force (GTF) and the possible effect on the status of the Federation of State Beef Councils (Federation).

“R-CALF USA members who pay the Checkoff believe they are underrepresented in the Checkoff program because it is unduly influenced by NCBA and we share Secretary Vilsack’s concerns and support his efforts to ensure the independence of the Federation from the control exerted by any private membership organization, regardless of its Checkoff contractor status,” said R-CALF USA Region VII Director Joel Gill, who chairs the group’s Checkoff committee.

“While NCBA, or any group, has the right to restructure its organization, we at R-CALF USA believe the proposed NCBA restructuring has ramifications that go far beyond the limited number of NCBA members that pay into the Checkoff,” Gill wrote in his correspondence to Vilsack. “We believe NCBA’s proposal will cause irreparable damage to the image, reputation and possibly the very effectiveness of the Federation, particularly in the eyes and minds of the thousands of independent producers who are mandated to fund the Checkoff program but are not NCBA members.

“At a time when other national agricultural organizations are proposing expansions of their governing boards to provide greater representation and diversity, encompassing not only a broader range of ideas but also geography, NCBA’s restructuring of their 274-member board into a smaller, 25-member board is much more restrictive and less diverse. Concern also arises from the built-in majority of NCBA voters chosen for the nominating committee under NCBA’s proposed change. We believe NCBA’s proposal would give NCBA inappropriate influence over the candidate selection process for members and/or officers of the operating committee and the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Federation,” the letter continues.”

NCBA’s creation of the House of Delegates (House) appears to overpower what small amount of independence Checkoff program contributors now accord to the
Federation and is especially troublesome given the investment schedule for voting. The one-representative, one-vote principal “flies out the window” when a monetary contribution as proposed by NCBA determines the weight of a particular representative’s vote. Another issue R-CALF USA finds worrisome concerning the House is the requirement that to be a House member, a person also must belong to the NCBA or an NCBA-member organization.

“R-CALF USA strongly urges USDA to disapprove NCBA’s plan to achieve total integration and absorption of the Federation into the bowels of NCBA, despite NCBA’s claim that its ‘firewalls’ are effective. Independent producers are deeply concerned about the effectiveness of the current, so-called firewalls. Approval of NCBA’s restructuring plan would only magnify this existing concern and accompanying distrust – perhaps even to the point of rejection of the Checkoff’s very existence should producers and importers ever be afforded the opportunity to vote in any future referendum concerning changes to the Checkoff,” the letter states.

“R-CALF USA further suggests to USDA that in an effort to ensure that all Checkoff program contributors are afforded a truly independent Federation, USDA should order and require a complete and total separation of the Federation from NCBA, including the separation of the Federation’s physical location and its "shared" employees. This would be particularly important should NCBA finalize its proposed structural change,” Gill wrote. “The Act and Order currently has requirements and structural specifications concerning the Federation that allow the Federation to operate as an independent organization, including with respect to the nominations of officers and the operating committee members.

“In the wake of the recent ruling that the Checkoff is government speech, another strong reason to suggest the separation of the Federation from NCBA is that NCBA is not a government agency,” the letter concludes. “R-CALF USA greatly appreciates USDA’s consideration of the foregoing concerns and looks forward to working with your agency to achieve genuine independence of the mandatory Checkoff program.”