FARFA has joined 102 farm and food organizations who are calling on the U.S. Senate to restore accountability and transparency to the commodity checkoff programs by supporting inclusion of the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, S. 741, in the Senate version of the Farm Bill. The legislation’s sponsors, Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), plan to introduce their legislation as an amendment to the Senate Farm Bill during floor debate.
Checkoff programs have been instrumental in the history of agricultural advertising. Famous campaigns such as “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.” have been paid for using family farmers' checkoff tax dollars. However, checkoff programs have fallen under the control of commodity trade organizations representing global agribusiness interests, and oftentimes the millions of dollars paid into checkoff programs by hard working family farmers and ranchers end up being used to lobby for policies that hurt them.
The amendment will prohibit lobbying trade organizations from receiving checkoff funds, however, it will clarify that this restriction does not apply to universities. It will rein in conflicts of interest and stop anti-competitive activities that harm other commodities and consumers. It will also force checkoff programs to publish their budgets and undergo periodic audits so that farmers and ranchers know where their hard-earned tax dollars are going.
During the recent debate of the House Farm Bill, Representatives Brat (R-VA) and Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a similar amendment, but withdrew it to avoid it getting tangled up in the broader political battle which led to the defeat of the House Farm Bill. Checkoff-funded commodity trade groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council, lobbied against the reforms. Their actions resulted in Representative Brat sending an email to his House colleagues informing them that this lobbying by checkoff-funded commodity trade associations was further evidence of why the reform measures need to become law.
The letter, signed by groups including the Organization for Competitive Markets, National Farmers Union, and R-CALF USA, states: “These provisions would eliminate the abuses and conflicts of interest plaguing the checkoff programs and will restore for U.S. producers credible, unbiased programs that can effectively and efficiently promote their individual commodities … For the future of America’s agriculture and its family farmers and ranchers, legislative action must be taken.”