Anyone who read the letter coming out of the meeting between the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Associoation (NCBA) couldn’t help but notice how carefully worded it was. Obviously, given the activities and campaigning that have been going on in the political tug of war over the checkoff, no one expected everything to be made right in just one meeting.
However, I wanted to be optimistic and hoped that it was the start of the two sides working together; I hoped all the grassroots pressure exerted on the two groups to quit the games had been heeded by the leadership. Sadly, however, Tom Jones, the CBB chair, was telling people immediately after the meeting that nothing had changed and his campaign would not stop. Likewise, NCBA had discussions about alternative funding mechanisms for beef demand-building activities.
The industry may want to save the checkoff, but this has gone beyond personal for many of the key players. It’s a crusade and those involved seem more than willing to defy the will of the majority in hopes of destroying the NCBA/CBB relationship.
It is now purely up to grassroots efforts to salvage the checkoff, as it’s become increasingly clear that nothing internally can be done. Producers have no means to effect the direction of things in the short term, short of holding the leadership accountable. The lawsuits and strategies under discussion can’t be construed as a good thing, but perhaps having two opposing and extreme views will actually force both sides to the middle.
At its inception, the checkoff was designed as a very egalitarian enterprise, and was sold as a producer program. This ongoing battle demonstrates it can no longer be construed to be either egalitarian or democratic. It also illustrates that the lack of institutional control being experienced by producers continues to threaten the very foundation of the checkoff program.
We can only hope that the comments by leadership were just posturing and that they, in fact, will return to focusing on building beef demand and improving the program and its successes. Otherwise, it will be up to producers to effect the necessary change.
The claim of something being at a critical juncture is often overused, but this is one case where the evidence is irrefutable. Producers must demand that trust be rebuilt through actions of the leadership, the ethical and moral breeches of conduct be eliminated, that the politicization of the CBB executive committee cease, that the firewall between policy and checkoff activities be maintained, that the checkoff remains all inclusive, and that the industry regain its focus on building beef demand instead of fighting turf wars.
These are demands that producers should never should have had to make, but it is the position we find ourselves in today.