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Finding The High Road Proves Difficult

As mentioned last week ("Do We Take The High Or The Low Road?”), the industry did take some steps to remedy the breaches in ethics and to try to rebuild trust.

More than 50 letters have now been submitted over this issue, calling for the politics to cease and for the checkoff program to get back to its mission of building beef demand. The exception this week was a letter from the South Dakota Farmers Union (see the letter here), which actually stood up in support of ousted Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) CEO Tom Ramey and CBB Chairman Tom Jones and their actions. In addition, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association sent a lengthy letter to USDA asking for an investigation.

While those letters may not come as a surprise as these two groups have been among the most vocal critics of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) for some time, they do illustrate how the checkoff has officially become the battleground of choice right now. It certainly wasn’t anyone’s intention that issues like GIPSA would be fought indirectly via the checkoff.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the checkoff. I remain a huge fan of the work being done via this program and I respect the importance of building beef demand. I also still hold out hope that the politics can be removed from the equation. But, as the aforementioned letters indicate, that may be nearly impossible.

Much has been invested in this strategy, but it can’t be allowed to continue. It is counterproductive and producers won’t stand for it. Perhaps it’s time to look at the alternatives in creating a new and more workable system.

If so, everyone, of course, must agree from the outset to work toward this goal without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The fact is that the checkoff is doing great work through the state beef councils and NCBA; if the current system is going to impede those activities, then it’s the system that must be addressed.

I understand that most leaders still believe that something that has done so much good should not be allowed to be destroyed by a politically motivated minority. These folks believe that if the good of the industry is put first, we can put this behind us and move forward. I hope they’re right.

But the reality is that it’s going to be difficult to return to where we once were, and very few believe in the direction being proposed. That means the industry needs substantive discussions and debate, and soon.