USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack answered concerns this month regarding R-CALF USA allegations of beef checkoff fund abuse, saying he would wait for findings of an audit conducted by the USDA Office of the Inspector General, expected to be completed this fall.
This summer, R-CALF submitted a series of letters to Vilsack, urging him to suspend contracts between the Beef Checkoff Program and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. The group alleges that checkoff funds have been misappropriated to "…successfully undermine [USDA's] stated goals concerning country-of-origin labeling and the competition rule proposed by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration."
R-CALF USA's demand letter asked Vilsack to also "initiate a rulemaking to make it crystal clear that organizations that contract with the Beef Checkoff are barred from engaging in lobbying activities."
Vilsack's response letter, dated Oct.3, indicated that any decisions regarding the checkoff would be made after the release of audit data.
In R-CALF's Oct. 12 reply, the group requested a personal meeting with Vilsack soon following the release of the OIG audit and before Vilsack formulates a course of action pursuant to that audit.
A Continuing Issue
Previous events leading up to Vilsack's response include an Aug. 10 lawsuit between USDA and beef producer Mike Callicrate over checkoff misappropriation. Though R-CALF is not involved in the lawsuit, it is aware of the suit and does oppose checkoff management.
In response to R-CALF's checkoff concerns and alleged support of the lawsuit, Beef Checkoff Industry groups in late September asked members of R-CALF to avoid attending a beef checkoff meeting in Denver, Colo. R-CALF then filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain copies of all checkoff correspondence between USDA and the eight groups involved in "banning" R-CALF from the checkoff meeting.
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