Secretary of Agriculture weighs in on breadbasket checkoff

Secretary of Agriculture weighs in on breadbasket checkoff

WASHINGTON — The US Department of Agriculture is committed to understanding the depth of industry support for a breadbasket checkoff program, before moving forward with such a program, said Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack.

In a May 21 letter to Nicholas A. Pyle, president of the Independent Bakers Association, Mr. Vilsack said he was writing in response to a letter from Mr. Pyle dated Feb. 16 and “requesting that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) discontinue any efforts in publishing a proposed Grain/Bread Check-off Program.” Mr. Vilsack said an April 2019 proposal for a Wheat Flour Foods Promotion, Research and Information Order (grain checkoff program) was withdrawn at the request of the Grain Foods Foundation and no revised proposal was received.

The Secretary’s letter also referenced Mr. Pyle’s citation of an IBA survey showing 90% of respondents prefer an “up-front” rather than deferred industry referendum over support of a checkoff program. Mr. Vilsack acknowledged that the GFF proposal “included a provision to conduct a referendum of assessment payers no later than three years after assessments begin under any new Order.”

No commitment was made by Mr. Vilsack to discontinue work on publishing a checkoff program proposal or conducting an up-front referendum.

“If a revised proposal is submitted, USDA will take into consideration industry support when deciding whether to publish the proposed rule and provide opportunity for public comment,” Mr. Vilsack said.

The GFF has stated that the USDA, as a matter of course, moves forward in publishing a checkoff order only when defined thresholds of industry approval are reached.

Since seeking USDA withdrawal of the checkoff order last fall, at the request of the American Bakers Association, the GFF has been working to develop a new program proposal to submit to the Department.