Apparently, all the talk about the Obama Administration being “post-racial” doesn’t apply to the Department of Agriculture. As reported by Beef Today, nominees to serve on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board have not been approved by the Secretary of Agriculture at this point, though they would normally expect to be seated Saturday at the Board’s meeting here in San Antonio.
The holdup? Lack of diversity.
That’s right, folks. The Board that oversees and invests our Beef Checkoff is in a state of flux because Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack doesn’t think the Board is diverse enough. The Cattlemen’s Beef Board, it appears, isn’t the only one of the nation’s 18 checkoff boards to be in this state of limbo.
Yesterday Vilsack finally approved the list of delegates to the National Pork Board’s Annual Meeting next month in Kansas City, but apparently hasn’t gotten the memo that many of the Beef Checkoff Board members are slated to retire Saturday. At this point, those members are expected to serve until their replacements are approved.
The way the process typically works, the various stakeholder organizations submit their list of nominees, and as part of USDA’s mandated oversight role on the checkoff system, the Ag Marketing Service and Secretary of Agriculture approve and appoint the members. In this case, the Secretary issued an edict that nominees needed to be more diverse, and has followed through on that edict by holding up the appointment of members to the various boards.
It is unclear at this point in which area of diversity the Secretary feels the Beef Board nominees are least diverse. As Steve Cornett reports in the Beef Today story, “USDA Deputy Administrator Craig A. Morris said Thursday that Vilsack ‘feels strongly’ that there should be more diversity—in gender, ethnicity, and size and types of operations represented on the boards. Apparently, the nominees for many of the checkoff boards don’t fit.”
So here’s the question: what are the demographics of the beef industry? Has USDA compared the overall demography of the industry and compared it to the makeup of the nominees, or are the shooting from the hip and laying down the law based on their own ideologies and preconceptions? The outgoing Chairman of the Beef Board is female, so there is at least some gender diversity on the Board.
While I opened the post with comments about the self-declared “post-racial” administration, my gut tells me this is more of the same from the Vilsack USDA on “size and types of operations represented on the boards.” It is no secret that this administration cares very little for mainstream agriculture, and has focused the vast majority of its time, energy, and resources on the niches of food production. This smacks of yet another thumb in the eye of the modern farmer or rancher.
The Beef Checkoff is critically important to me as a beef producer, and I fully believe the checkoff system has been exceptionally successful for farmers and consumers. We’ve grown demand for these farm products, and we’ve educated consumers about health and nutrition at the same time. These boards are far too important to be used as political pawns in imposing this administration’s fringe food philosophies on the industry.