A bill seeking changes to agricultural checkoff programs has been re-introduced in the Senate. The opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act of 2019 is backed by a bipartisan group of Senators including current presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky are also sponsoring the legislation.
An attempt was made to attach the same bill to the 2018 farm bill, but failed to happen.
The proposal would put restrictions in place on which organization could receive checkoff funds. The bill also attempts to increase transparency within the program and increase audits.
The Senators argue that checkoff funds are being improperly used by contractors, such as National Pork Producers Council, American Soybean Association or the National Corn Growers Association, to lobby against legislation that might benefit other segments of agriculture.
“Checkoff programs force farmers to pay into a system that sometimes actively works against their interests,” Lee says. “On top of that, the boards for these programs have come under fire for a lack of transparency and for misuse of their funds. The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act is common sense reform that would help farmers see exactly where the fees they pay are going and ensure that their hard-earned money is not being used against them.”
“Federal checkoff programs need to start working again for the family farmers and ranchers who are required to pay into them,” Booker says. “This bipartisan legislation will bring much needed reforms by prohibiting conflicts of interest and anti-competitive practices, and requiring more transparency in these programs.”
Many agriculture industry associations don’t support the bill and it’s proposed changes because checkoff programs are already under the oversight and guidance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association voiced concerns regarding statements made by Senator Warren regarding agriculture checkoffs.
“If Senator Warren’s goal is to help cattle farmers and ranchers, her policy proposals seriously miss the mark. The ideas she outlines are nothing more than recycled policies promoted by some of the leading opponents of animal agriculture. It is regrettable that Senator Warren would follow in the footsteps of groups like the Humane Society of the United States, who have launched unfounded attacks against the Beef Checkoff for years. Crippling the Beef Checkoff and resurrecting failed policies like mandatory country-of-origin labeling may be a dream for radical activists, but it would be a nightmare for cattle producers,” says Colin Woodall, NCBA senior vice president of government affairs.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association/Animal Wellness Action