USDA Publishes Notice of Inquiry on Duplicate Checkoff
On Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack published his agency’s Notice of Inquiry on the duplicate beef checkoff under the 1996 Generic Commodity Promotion Act. The Secretary made his publication over objections voiced by 45 State Affiliate cattlemen’s associations, representing over 170,000 cattle producers and without request by mainstream cattle producers.
Cattle producers overwhelming support the current Beef Checkoff program under the 1985 Beef Promotion, Research and Education Act. In a recent survey, the Checkoff received support from 4 out of 5 cattlemen and a recent poll conducted on our NCBA telephone townhall showed the same results. Yet despite concern shown by cattlemen, state cattlemen’s associations, Federation of State Beef Councils, and the lack of Congressional intent to use the 1996 Act in this way; the Secretary has plowed forward with his plan for a duplicate beef checkoff under the 1996 Act.
So why has the Secretary done this? The USDA has called it a companion checkoff, but cattlemen never asked for a companion to their highly successful existing checkoff. There are enhancements that can be made, places we could build on the success, but to turn over a successful program to create a duplicative program is senseless and wasteful of producer dollars. The answer is simpler though. The Secretary has seen a small opportunity to use the efforts toward consensus in the beef industry as an opportunity to take over the current checkoff and replace it with a checkoff that puts all the major decision-making authority in the hands of the Administration.
That is what this boils down to; the tendency of this Administration to seize greater authority up to, and in some cases beyond, Congressional intent. Congress created the Beef Checkoff in 1985, writing most of the key provisions into statute; the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and their administrative role, the Federation of State Beef Councils and their collection role, and even the dollar per head and importer assessment. Beyond that, they left oversight to the USDA and their rule-making authority. But under the 1996 Generic Commodities Act, the Secretary and future Secretaries would have much greater authority, the authority to use their rule-making to write the beef checkoff as they see fit, without intervention from Congress.
That is what the Secretary is doing here, using the 1996 Act to write a beef checkoff that would place the checkoff in the hands of the Secretary for generations to come, rendering beef promotion a political spoil that any future administration could quickly rewrite to suit its political agenda. Even if that is not the intent, it is the result.
The comment period will remain open for 30 days, we encourage producers to submit comments and contact their Senators and Representative. Tell the Secretary that we don’t need a duplicate checkoff.