A formal petition requesting a referendum on the Beef Checkoff Program was launched July 2, 2020, by a group of ranchers, cattlemen’s organizations and 25 livestock auction markets.
The petition calls on the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct a referendum and current law provides the Secretary authority to conduct the referendum if requested by at least 10% of the cattle producers in the United States. The petition states that at least 88,269 eligible U.S. cattle producers are needed to sign the petition. Petitioners have until July 2, 2021, to gather the required signatures to call for a vote.
A previous petition seeking a vote on the Beef Checkoff gathered more than 145,000 signatures in 1999, but the effort failed when USDA determined more than one-third of the signatures were invalid.
Last week USDA posted a letter to the petitioners, along with a guidance document, on its website. The letter stated the petitioners have 30 days following the end of the petition drive to submit the signatures to USDA (Aug. 1, 2021). The Secretary of Agriculture will then verify the petitions are a representative group of cattle producers by requesting documentation from a sample of producers who signed the petition.
USDA also cautioned the petitioners about using questionable means to collect signatures.
“I also must inform you that inappropriate activity has infected the petition process that you Initiated,” Deputy Administrator Jennifer Porter wrote in the letter to petitioners. “Specifically, AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service) has been provided evidence that indicates producers will be entered into a drawing to win $100 in exchange for sharing a post that encourages signing the petition. This action calls into question the integrity and validity of the process you are using to collect signatures. Monetary inducement is improper. Therefore, during the verification and validation process, USDA will apply additional scrutiny to petition signatures obtained through an online platform and will consider whether any signatures have been obtained subject to improper influence or coercion. If evidence of such activity surfaces, we may be unable to perform our verification function and the petition will fail. As the organizer of the petition, I must impress upon you that its success lies not only in gathering the required number of signatures, but in maintaining the integrity of the process.”
In a statement released Monday, NCBA President Marty Smith, a Florida cattle producer, said, “In the 1980s, NCBA was instrumental in the initial passage of the Beef Promotion and Research Act and the resulting referendum that established the Beef Checkoff as we know it today. The Act makes it very clear that cattle producers have a say in the continuation of the checkoff through a grassroots petition process.
“NCBA fully supports the producers’ right to have their voices heard on the future of the checkoff. However, we also believe the petition and signature gathering processes should be transparent and conducted with integrity. NCBA trusts cattle producers to make the right decisions for our industry, so if some producers feel they need to sign a petition calling for a vote on the Beef Checkoff, then they should sign. If enough sign, then we should vote. We are confident that a vote by those who invest and direct their hard-earned dollars will again show strong support for this program and will finally allow our industry to put this issue behind us.
“For more than three decades, cattle producers have accomplished great things for the industry by working together to direct these investments. From improvements in beef safety, successful marketing programs to new product development, the Beef Checkoff has a long track record of solid returns for each dollar invested. Beef producers should be proud of that work and we believe that a majority of cattlemen and women stand behind the program,” Smith wrote.