Over 250,000 farmers, organizations, businesses, urge Congress to pass meaningful checkoff program reform
May 5, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In letters to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, more than 80 organizations, representing over 250,000 ranchers, farmers and businesses called on Congress to fix the federal government's failed commodity checkoff tax programs by supporting recently introduced legislation that, when passed, will bring much needed transparency and accountability to the programs. The letter demonstrates strong support for checkoff program reform among America's farm and ranch community.
On March 28, 2017, the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, S. 741, was reintroduced by Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., while Reps. Dave Brat, R-Va., and Dina Titus, D-Nev., introduced companion legislation, H.R. 1753, in the House. The OFF Act would put an end to the most egregious abuses committed by the boards of the federally mandated commodity checkoff programs. The Voluntary Checkoff Act, S. 740, was reintroduced by Sen. Lee, and companion legislation, H.R. 1752, was introduced in the House by Reps. Brat and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. It would ensure no farmer or rancher is forced to pay fees into programs that do not promote their market segment.
The two bills were previously introduced during Congress' last session, but their introduction occurred too late during the election year to be properly considered. This year's early reintroduction will ensure the measures are considered by the full Congress.
The joint letter, signed by organizations including the National Farmers Union, Organization for Competitive Markets, and R-CALF USA, points to the checkoff programs' history of acting beyond the scope of their statutory mandate, stating that, "lax oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has resulted in collusive and illegal relationships between checkoff boards and lobbying organizations, both of which have repeatedly used checkoff funds to influence legislation and government action in spite of a broad statutory prohibition against these activities. Such advocacy efforts have an anticompetitive effect, benefiting certain producers to the detriment of others, and forcing some producers to pay into a system that actively works against them."
Fred Stokes, founding member of the Organization for Competitive Markets, said: "Egregious abuses of U.S. farmers' and ranchers' mandatory checkoff tax dollars have been exposed in the beef, pork, dairy, egg and other checkoff programs. The half-billion dollars that these programs take from farmers have become the cash cow for organizations that work against fair competition and market transparency, forcing independent family farmers and ranchers to essentially fund their own demise. Successful passage of this proposed legislation is critically important to restoring fair markets and rebuilding our domestic family farm and ranch agriculture."
Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA, said: "Our joint letter provides clear evidence that independent cattle producers are tired of the conflicts of interest, misspending, and other abuses rampant in our beef checkoff program. We are now appealing to Congress to take action to stop these commodity programs from harming the very individuals who are forced to pay into the checkoff funds, such as the $1 per head cattle tax that U.S. cattle producers must pay each time they sell an animal."
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The joint letter highlights the major reform provisions of the OFF Act, S. 741 and H.R. 1753, which would end the glaring abuses of the program boards.
The legislation would:
1. Stop federally mandated checkoff dollars from being transferred to parties that seek to influence government policies or action relating to agriculture issues.
2. Enforce the prohibition against conflicts of interest in contracting and all other decision-making operations of the checkoff program.
3. Stop federally mandated funds from being used for anti-competitive programs or from being spent to disparage another commodity in the marketplace.
4. Increase transparency of the individual boards' actions by shedding light on how federal checkoff funds are spent and the purpose of their expenditures.
5. Require audits of each program every five years to ensure their activities are in compliance with the law.
Further, the joint letter requests Congress pass S. 740 and H.R. 1752, ensuring that in this complicated, multifaceted market, no farmer or rancher is forced to pay into a joint marketing and research program unless they see a benefit to their farm, ranch or business by doing so. ❖