Agriculture Has “Beef” with USDA’s Proposed Checkoff Overhaul

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has enraged many in the agriculture community, putting producers and consumers at risk, with a proposed overhaul of the national beef checkoff program. The Beef Checkoff, funded by cattle producers all over the United States, is a marketing and research initiative that works to promote the beef industry. It was created by Congress in 1985 via the Beef Research and Information Act and is overseen by the USDA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.

The Beef Checkoff has six missions: Promotion, Research, Consumer Information, Industry Information, Foreign Marketing and Producer Communications. For years, its approval rating has hovered in the upper 70s/80s percentile by producers, with a current rate around 78%. It has successfully marketed the beef industry’s health, quality, and profitability to consumers. Unfortunately, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has decided to mess with a good thing. He has announced that a new program, to be introduced by the end of the year, will exist alongside the current program. He argues that he only wants to see beef demand increase both domestically and globally.

Why would Secretary Vilsack undermine an already successful program?

Vilsak served as the governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007. One year later, he was appointed to the post of Secretary of Agriculture by President Obama, which many believe had more to do with his state of origin (Iowa having a reputation for being one of the top producing agricultural states) than any qualifications he may have had in agriculture.

Vilsack’s wife, Christie, had her unsuccessful campaign to run for Iowa’s U.S. Representative seat financed by Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Not surprisingly, Secretary Vilsack has allowed the animal rights group’s interests to be heard in many aspects of his decision-making on agricultural issues, such as the USDA’s support of “Meatless Monday.” Under Vilsack, USDA has even hired former HSUS employees.

This USDA decision reeks of political maneuvering. Tom Vilsack has no authority to undermine the Congressionally-created Beef Checkoff. His jobs is to manage and oversee the program so it reaches its full potential. Nothing would stop Vilsack from stocking the new checkoff board full of HSUS and other animal rights buddies in an attempt to flip the agriculture community upside down. He fails to realize that by the very spirit of the original bill, those that pay into the system (beef producers) should be the only ones managing the checkoff.

The new checkoff could also cause confusion and encourage those unsatisfied to form new groups to compete with current state and federal beef councils. Essentially, a new program could end up costing cattle producers more money in the long run, with consumers also feeling the effects. Thankfully, there is a rather large contingency fighting back. The National Cattlemen’s Association, as well as state cattlemen’s associations, are a major part of this effort.

Missouri Cattlemen’s Association’s Executive Vice President Mike Deering expressed his group’s vehement opposition to a new checkoff:

“Weaving federal bureaucrats, red tape and runaround into the Beef Checkoff Program is absolutely unacceptable. This program was started by cattlemen for cattlemen with their money. We are not talking about government money. We are talking about cattlemen investing their money into their industry. It was certainly difficult to answer Secretary Vilsack’s questions about how to form a new checkoff given we are completely opposed to this government takeover of the Beef Checkoff Program. We do not want to offer suggestions for a plan that is bad for cattlemen, bad for the industry and all-around bad government.”

State government is also joining the fight. Missouri State Senator Mike Parson (R-Bolivar) has filed legislation seeking to oppose increased government control of the checkoff program and similar programs. Senator Parson:

“Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack should be admonished for the failures of his administration and for allowing more government control of the Beef Checkoff program. . . . Producers should have control over how that money is spent, not the secretary of agriculture and the federal government.”

The response to Secretary Vilsack’s agenda has been impressively negative, and has surely united many in the industry against him. We are happy to see such a strong front opposing this plan.

**UPDATE** As of the morning of Friday, December 19th, the USDA and Tom Vilsack announced that due to a provision included in Congress’ recent tax extenders bill, no second beef checkoff will be pursued. We congratulate those who fought to prevent this proposal from coming to fruition, as well as the beef producers and consumers who will continue to benefit from a strong beef checkoff program. We will continue to keep a watchful eye on the USDA’s relationship with the agriculture community, so that similar situations don’t arise in the future.

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