There will be no referendum on the beef checkoff – at least not in the immediate future. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced today not enough valid petitions were received to force a referendum.

The Beef Promotion and research Act provides for a referendum if requested by 10 percent of all cattle producers in the U.S. USDA determined that number to be 107,883 producers. The Livestock Marketing Association conducted a petition drive that collected 127,927 signatures and submitted those to USDA in November 1999. Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), an independent accounting firm hired by USDA to validate the signatures, found that no more than 83,464 of the signatures were valid. That means the petition drive fell 24,419 signatures short, and that 1 out of every 3 signatures submitted was ruled invalid. PwC conducted a 100 percent hand-count of the actual petitions.

A copy of the draft PwC report will be available today on the AMS Web site at: http:/www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/mpb/rp-beef.htm

In a release yesterday, LMA president John Willis said, “We think this so-called validation process is seriously flawed and doubt that PxC can produce a credible report. In the meantime, LMA will continue to stand up for the rights of producers, who pay $80 million annually into the checkoff and were last allowed to vote on it 13 years ago.

In a statement released by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, which administers the checkoff, chairman Les McNeill, Panhandle, Texas, said, beef producers on the CBB “applaud today’s announcement. Our work to increase beef demand will continue as we help show both domestic and international consumers why beef is an important part of their diets.

“Regular independent surveys show that there is significant support for our efforts,” Mr. McNeill said. “The last survey, conducted in the summer of 2000, found that 69 percent of producers support or strongly support the beef checkoff. Continued work to improve consumer demand will further solidify that support. In addition, we’ll make sure all producers have access to information about what their checkoff is doing. We fully understand that some producers are not fully satisfied with their checkoff and we want to better understand their concerns.”

Mr. McNeill also stated the CBB believes “the trust beef producers have in us is justified. Our “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.” Advertising and promotion campaign, outreach to health professionals, research efforts in food safety and nutrition, new product development work, foreign marketing efforts and many, many other programs have successful track records and demonstrate our ability to move the demand needle in a positive direction.”

Following the announcement, George Hall, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), which implements many programs funded by the checkoff, called on producers to “work together – even when we have differing views – to forge consensus and find solutions to the challenges facing us.”

Mr. Hall also said NCBA will continue its “aggressive work in helping implement programs funded by the beef checkoff, which has been a catalyst in improving beef demand.”

The announcement that the petition drive to force a referendum on the beef checkoff came just one day after USDA announced that the pork checkoff referendum ended that mandatory program. More than 52 percent of pork producers voted to end the program.

A USDA task force on research and promotion programs has recommended that all checkoff programs be the subject of continuance referenda every five years to ensure that the programs have industry support.

Referring to the failed beef petition drive, AMS Administrator Kathleen A. Merrigan said, “This petition drive should serve as a reminder to all national checkoffs of their responsibility to stay in close touch with the producers who fund these programs, and that the activities they undertake be fully reflective of the marketing needs of all those in the industry.”