An independent cattlemen’s group is charging its larger competitor with using federal “Beef Checkoff” marketing dollars to illegally influence government actions and policies.

The Billings, MT-based R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America made the charge earlier this month against the Denver-based National Cattleman’s Beef Association in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Attorney General Eric Holder, and USDA Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong.

R-Calf President Bill Bullard asks the federal officials for an investigation based on information “substantiating our concern that the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has been using the Beef Checkoff Program (Checkoff) to subsidize non-Checkoff activities that include activities to influence governmental actions and policies.”

Bullard says there is a “long history of violations” of the “purpose, intent, and spirit” of the Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985.

The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and USDA oversee collection of Checkoff funds from producers. By law, the money is supposed to go to promotion, research, consumer information, industry information, foreign marketing and producer communications that contribute to increased consumer demand for beef.

R-CALF and NCBA are known for their differences on everything from federal marketing rules for beef and hogs to country of origin labeling. Beef Checkoff allocations heated up as an issue last year.

“We are particularly concerned with NCBA’s long-term practice, which was clearly revealed in the settlement proposal involving $216,000 in unlawful expenditures, of charging the Checkoff for an unbelievable one-half of NCBA’s officer travel,” Bullard wrote.  “This is preposterous as NCBA officers are the spokespeople for NCBA and they have led NCBA’s vehement opposition to some of the most critical and pivotal policy initiatives ever to face U.S. cattle producers, initiatives that we believe were supported by the preponderance of Check-off paying cattle producers.”

Bullard is poking into an already sore area, in that the issue of just what Checkoff dollars can be spent on was a tender subject between NCBA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the marketing arm, at their recent Denver convention.

“Regardless of the seriousness and weight of the issue, however, there was a pervading feeling of optimism because the industry has a contingency plan for just about everything it faces,” says BEEF Magazine Editor Troy Marshall.  “Sadly, there was one notable exception, and that was the ongoing feud between the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the executive committee of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.”

R-CALF has provided a list of nearly two dozen meetings and court cases going back to 2002 where it says NCBA may have been using Checkoff funds to influence policy.

NCBA, which sometimes duels with R-CALF with same-day press releases, has not commented on the letter.  The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the Check off are responsible for one of advertising’s best known tag lines: “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner.”