Alberta to make cattle checkoff refundable

The Alberta government has tabled legislation which will allow the province’s farmers to request a refund of checkoffs collected on the sale of beef, pork, lamb and potatoes.

The change will make the system for these products consistent with nine other provincial non-supply managed commodity commissions where farmers have the choice to request a refund of their checkoff.

The legislation, Bill 43, The Marketing of Agricultural Products Amendment Act, 2009, was tabled in the Alberta Legislature April 28.

“It is important to have consistent legislation. This ensures producers all have the same fundamental right to choose how their hard-earned money is spent,” Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development George Groeneveld said in a release. “If they feel their organization has not met their needs or provided value, they can ask for a refund. It is all about choice.”

The organization that will potentially be most affected will be Alberta Beef Producers (ABP), which currently collects a checkoff on cattle sales in the province.  In recent months ABP and the Alberta government have been at odds on some aspects of the province’s Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency’s (ALMA) long-term strategy for the beef industry.

Last year the province announced $300 million in assistance for cattle producers, but a second payment for half the amount was conditional on producers taking part in age verification for their animals.

ABP opposed mandatory age verification, but it was supported by the Beef Industry Alliance (BIA), a new group made up of a coalition of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association, Beef Initiative Group, Feeders Association of Alberta and Western Stock Growers Association.

The BIA has pressed the province for a refundable checkoff, and also for a system in which producers could choose which organization received their checkoff.

In an opinion piece published in Alberta Farmer Express in January, the BIA said, “The current governance structure has failed to accomplish either the collaboration or the better future. BIA is eager to engage other players in the beef supply chain to grow the business. A refundable checkoff is the first step needed to change industry governance.”

APB has argued that the producers are better served through a unified voice, particularly given the need to fund expensive legal actions such as challenges to the U.S. country-of-origin-labelling (COOL) legislation.

In a release, ABP said, “This action will aggravate the divisions that already exist within the cattle industry and will compromise the positive intent of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy and the efforts of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency.
 
“A refundable checkoff has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of industry funding that is available for marketing, research and promotion activities.  ABP does not think that this action makes sense at a time when governments are facing severe budgetary constraints and are looking to industry to provide more funding for these activities.”

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