National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture today urging major and immediate changes to the current beef checkoff program including a clear separation between any organization receiving checkoff funds and those that lobby.

“NFU believes a very clear separation must exist between all taxpayer-supported, checkoff-funded organizations and related commodity organizations which advocate and lobby for policy positions. In the case of the beef checkoff, such a line of separation does not exist,” said Johnson.

Johnson suggests that there should be a new beef checkoff program that, like every other checkoff program, is devoted to research and market development, but divorced from all political, policy advocating organizations. “Every other commodity checkoff program has separated the policy organization from the non-political, promotional entity. Under this popular model, checkoff dollars are used exclusively for research, market promotion and product improvement.”

Johnson points out that the beef checkoff is the only program that has failed to embrace this new paradigm, which has caused an enormous rift in the industry. “Ranchers dislike that their checkoff dollars are being controlled by a lobbying organization that is fighting against the very policies many of these ranchers support. All other commodity checkoff programs have gone to this model, and it is time for beef to follow suit,” he said.

Johnson notes that the current beef checkoff is controlled by National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), an organization that has “aggressively lobbied against a number of very important producer and consumer programs, frequently placing themselves in direct opposition to the very producers they purport to represent.”

Johnson says a long list of such examples abound, including NCBA’s aggressive opposition to Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) in court, at the World Trade Organization and in Congress; NCBA’s opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard; and NCBA’s opposition to the 2014 Farm Bill, including provisions written specifically to aid livestock producers suffering from disastrous, weather-related livestock losses. “Such actions undermine producer confidence in the check-off program because cattle producers know that NCBA also controls the check-off program, which is required to operate in a strictly non-political, independent fashion,” he said.

Johnson points out that the current beef checkoff program is inflexible and unable to adapt to effectively market U.S. beef domestically and internationally. “While the checkoff has remained unchanged for the past 30 years, the beef industry has experienced many changes. The current checkoff program does not have sufficient flexibility to address industry changes such as changes in purchasing trends, demographics, or production systems,” he said.

Johnson notes that NFU supports voluntary checkoff programs that safeguard the interests of family farmers. The following conditions were adopted by delegates at NFU’s most recent national convention:

· Control of the program is held by producers who are actively involved in production agriculture;
· Promotion of exclusively domestic product;
· Exclusion of processors from positions of leadership and financial responsibility;
· Review referendums executed by USDA every five years offering a program recall in the event of a simple majority vote; and
· Prohibition preventing assessment funds from going to organizations engaged in lobbying.

NFU has a significant number of members who produce dairy and beef cattle, making this issue extremely important to both the organization and the family farmers it represents.

Read the comments in their entirety here.