R-CALF USA, NCBA square off over checkoff bill
If passed the OFF Act would:
- Prohibit checkoff programs from contracting with any organization that lobbies on agricultural policy.
- Prohibit employees and agents of the checkoff boards from engaging in activities that may involve a conflict of interest.
- Establish uniform standards for checkoff programs that prohibit anticompetitive activity, unfair or deceptive acts, or any act or practice that may be disparaging to another agricultural commodity or product.
- Require transparency through publication of checkoff program budgets and expenditures.
- Require periodic audits of compliance with the act by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General.
- Require a Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit of checkoff board compliance and a report with further recommendations related to checkoff programs.
|Bipartisan coalitions in the Senate and the House this week reintroduced the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (OFF Act), bills to prohibit the checkoff programs into which farmers make payments for research and promotion from contracting with any organization that lobbies on agricultural policy. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Cory Booker, D-N.J., Rand Paul, R-Ky., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced the Senate version, and Reps. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Nancy Mace, R-S.C., introduced the House version.|
|R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America) praised the bill. CEO Bill Bullard said, “The decades old beef checkoff program is ill-suited to meet the needs of today’s cattle farmers and ranchers, in fact, the program promotes corporate control and globalization over the interests of America’s cattle producers.”|
The bill finds that although the laws establishing checkoff programs broadly prohibit the use of funds in any manner for the purpose of influencing legislation or government action, checkoff programs have repeatedly been shown to use funds to influence policy directly or by partnering with organizations that lobby; the unlawful use of checkoff programs funds benefits some agricultural producers while harming many others, said R-CALF USA in a news release.
“We applaud these senators and representatives for introducing this legislation to meaningfully reform the beef checkoff program so it can begin working for, rather than against, American cattle producers,” Bullard said.
“The OFF Act will provide the necessary accountability and transparency to prevent the misuse of producers’ checkoff dollars.”
|But the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said the bills represent “nothing more than another attempt to allow activists to dictate to producers.”|
“In 2021 cattle producers overwhelmingly denied a referendum to end the checkoff with detractors coming nowhere near the required signatures to petition for the termination of this vital program,” said NCBA President and South Dakota cattleman Todd Wilkinson.
“The beef checkoff has a long track record of support among cattle producers,” Wilkinson said.
“Congress has plenty of work to do that could be far more beneficial to Americans. They should focus in areas of urgent need, rather than wasting time on these unwelcome ‘reform efforts,’ that would only benefit anti-agriculture activists.”
“For every dollar paid into the checkoff program, $11.91 is returned in producer profit and between 2014-2018 total domestic beef demand increased by 12.8 billion pounds,” Wilkinson said.
“Any legislation that would hurt beef promotion efforts is tantamount to taking money directly out of cattle producers’ pockets. The introduction of the ‘Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2023’ represents Sens. Booker, Lee, Paul, Warren, and Gillibrand working to subvert the will of U.S. cattle producers.
“NCBA will always stand firm in its support of the U.S. beef checkoff program and will continue to fight the animal rights groups and the members of Congress who assist them in their efforts to end animal agriculture,” Wilkinson said.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, a third cattle group, said, “While USCA is encouraged by the legislation’s attempt to curb abuses of checkoff dollars, the OFF Act does not specifically address the necessary enhancements and changes within the beef checkoff program that must be implemented for the program to remain effective and operate efficiently for all U.S. cattle producers.”
Animal Wellness Action, the Organization for Competitive Markets, the Center for a Humane Economy, and the National Dairy Producers Organization all applauded the introduction of the bill.
“The measure is designed to reform and bring accountability and transparency to reform the USDA’s commodity checkoff programs that have long been plagued by scandal after scandal for misappropriation of funds, lack of transparency, and misusing farmer and rancher tax dollars and was first introduced in the 115th Congress,” the groups said in a joint news release.
“Proponents of the OFF Act argue that national livestock trade associations work against the best interests of rank-and-file family farmers and work to benefit the industrial agriculture and international processors.”
–The Hagstrom Report