Effort to make beef checkoff voluntary fails in the House

Dylan Sherman

BISMARCK – An attempt to make the state beef checkoff payments voluntary failed in the North Dakota House on Feb. 9 by a vote of 41 to 53. However, legislators said changes need to be made in the future.

House Bill 1487 would have made the $1 beef checkoff paid to the state Beef Commission voluntary for local producers. Beef producers now pay a $1 per head checkoff on all beef sold in the U.S. and a second $1 per head to the state Beef Commission. Beef producers can request a refund for the state checkoff payments.

Beef cow in a pasture

Beef producers in favor of the bill told the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 5 about difficulty they face in applying for a refund and where the checkoff money is being spent in state.

Rep. Sebastian Ertelt, R-Lisbon, the sponsor of the bill, argued that the checkoff is another tax for producers, from a non-elected board.

A shopper surveys the overflowing selection of packaged meat in a grocery early Monday, April 27, 2020, in southeast Denver. With closures in meat processing plants across the country because of the spread of the new coronavirus among workers, food analysts are forecasting shortages of beef, pork and poultry on the shelves of the country's supermarkets in the days ahead. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“This is a tax, you can call it a checkoff, assessment, a fee or you can call it whatever you want, but it's a tax,” he said. “[The Beef Commission] is an appointed board, and it has the control over the funds that go to it.”

In supermarkets' meat departments, shoppers are finding lower prices and more variety of beef products.

Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, said his district has more cattle constituents than humans, and last year the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota invited him to a gathering discussing issues.

Ground beef at the supermarket

“They don’t feel they have a place at the table,” he said. “I think the beef checkoff is a great tool, to market beef, but everyone should be at the table.” He voted against the bill, but he said he wants to see the Beef Commission change to an elected board.

Since the onset of the novel coronavirus in the U.S., consumers have sometimes encountered bare shelves in some sections of their supermarkets. For a population that has long been used to an array of food choices that would be unimaginable in much of the world -- stores typically stock 40,000 to 50,000 items per location -- realizing that they might not be able to buy their favorite brands of this thing or that was a sobering experience. Did it mean that we’re running out of food? It might seem that way sometimes, but according to the experts, while the U.S. could face minor,  local food shortages (as Forbes put it), they will be temporary . It’s mostly a matter of logistics, of waiting for distribution networks to catch up to increased demand from retail customers (because there’s so much more home cooking going on).  There is one area, however, where consumers might see more noticeable and lasting shortfalls. Most of the beef, pork, and chicken produced in the U.S. comes from just three companies, who process their offerings in massive plants -- a number of which are now temporarily closed, or at least operating with greatly reduced staff as a result of the coronavirus. ( These are other U.S. industries being devastated by the coronavirus. )  As a result, even when supplies return to their former levels, we may well be buying our protein in slightly different forms than we’re used to. 24/7 Tempo has consulted numerous news publications and hunger and environmental advocacy sites in an attempt to bring clarity to the situation. As a result, here are 12 things you need to know about meat (and poultry and seafood) shortages -- or lack of shortages -- in these difficult times.

Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said it was demonstrated to the committee that it is very easy to get the refund from the state.

“When we passed [the checkoff] in 2015 for the extra dollar, it was very specifically put into language that you would have the opportunity to get the refund,” he said.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

Be sure to follow Devils Lake Journal on our twitter page, @devilslakenews, and like us on Facebook!