York News-Times: NCBA, what’s the deal?

Kerry Hoffschneider Apr 11, 2017

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It is important for the farming and ranching community as well as the general public to know about the efforts of the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) as they continue to move forward to uncover what is truly going on with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) use of Beef Checkoff funds.

The following are some excerpts from an April 3 news release put together by OCM staff and sent out by OCM media contact, Angela Huffman, “March 31, 2017 was the USDA’s court-ordered deadline to choose transparency or secrecy in a lawsuit over records from an audit initiated in 2011 of the federal Beef Checkoff Program. It chose secrecy. Out of a total of 12,341 pages of financial records from the audit and sought by the OCM through the Freedom of Information Act, USDA released less than 175 pages, most of which are already public tax forms. The remaining nearly 12,200 pages of checkoff-related records, however, were completely blacked out – USDA is claiming they are confidential. The bottom line is that USDA is withholding a staggering 98.5% of federal Beef Checkoff Program spending records from the cattle producers who are required to pay into the government program.”

“. . . OCM’s fight to get to the truth about Beef Checkoff Program spending began in 2010, after a small independent audit uncovered more than $200,000 in wrongdoing by the NCBA. With this evidence, OCM, along with others, pressured the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the USDA to audit the Beef Checkoff Program,” the release explained.

“OIG conducted a full audit of the Beef Checkoff Program in 2011. Despite the previous independent audit evidence to the contrary, OIG’s 2014 initial audit report made no claims against NCBA’s management of the beef checkoff funds, and contained a statement that NCBA’s administration of the beef checkoff funds was in full compliance. A USDA email from 2013 establishes that the audit had turned up issues that would give USDA ‘heartburn,’ but these issues appear to have been scrubbed from the final audit report. Further, a central finding of an early draft audit report by OIG determined that as much as 25 percent of checkoff funds were ‘vulnerable to misuse’ and that producers lack assurance that the Beef Board could protect those funds,” the release went on.

“There is evidence NCBA used beef checkoff funds to grow and develop its organization and its influence on policy, a clear conflict of interest. Through the advancement of its policies, NCBA has almost single-handedly destroyed the cattle price. NCBA lobbied to abolish Country of Origin Labeling on behalf of packers so cheap imported South American beef could be co-mingled with U.S. beef . . . Since NCBA has been administering the lion’s share of beef checkoff funds, the U.S. has lost nearly half of its cattle producers,” the release explained.

The OCM investigation is exposing a bigger issue in agriculture. It is also exposing an opportunity. There are ag systems and ag organizations operating today that were designed to serve a need generations ago. Some of these organization and systems, like NCBA, have morphed into something else. So, as farmers, ranchers and consumers, we need to ask questions. We also need to recognize that we have, at our disposal, an opportunity to work together differently. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to redesign or bust apart what’s not working anymore. There are more farmers and ranchers marketing their food direct. There are others coming together to form new systems and organizations with a more progressive vision for markets in the future. They are fed up with archaic, “good old boy” thinking that is limiting opportunities for all of us to have access to the healthiest food grown right here in the United States on the local and regional level.

NCBA, what’s your beef against producers who just want to know what is going on with their money? What’s wrong with labeling beef produced in the USA? If they were alive today, I believe some of the founders of your organization would say they don’t even recognize the association at all that was formed to support U.S. beef producers. Farmers and ranchers are waking up to some of the major ag system and ag organization errors that need to be corrected, reformed or dismantled. Consumers are waking up too. NCBA, what side of history do you want to be on? I am siding with farmers, ranchers and the public who deserve to know what’s going on with the food and food systems that feed their families.