Commodity checkoff programs were created to create new markets, strengthen existing markets through promotional activities and conduct research administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). AMS oversees 21 research and promotion boards paid for through a compulsory fee by producers in the industry.
Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV-01) and Nancy Mace (R-SC-01) introduced the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act to add accountability and transparency to reform the USDA’s checkoff programs.
“This legislation will bring much-needed accountability and transparency to USDA’s checkoff programs which have operated without sufficient oversight for far too long,” said Titus in a statement. “Family farmers should not be forced to pay into organizations that sometimes lobby against their interests and threaten animal welfare.”
The bill prohibits the boards of commodity programs from engaging in activities that influence any government action or policy related to agriculture and from engaging in anticompetitive activities. The bill also requires the boards to disclose budgets and disbursements, including the recipient’s amount, purpose, and identity. Lastly, the bill requires periodic audits by the inspector general of the USDA to ensure compliance with the bill’s provisions.
“For years now, small farmers have seen their hard-earned money used to fund the lobbying efforts of massive, multi-billion-dollar agriculture conglomerates,” said Mace in a statement. “This program has devolved from producing ‘Got Milk?’ ads to creating taxpayer-funded lobbying firms, and it needs to stop.”
Farmers and ranchers contributed over $900 million to federally mandated checkoff programs in 2018 and have funded such advertising campaigns as “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner,” “The Incredible, Edible Egg,” “Pork: The Other White Meat” and Cotton Incorporated’s “The Fabric of Our Lives.”
Titus introduced a version of the bill in January 2020 and a companion bill was introduced by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
At the time of introduction, 40 groups—including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation—opposed the bill, stating it will “gut” the programs and “impose unnecessary, duplicative and counterproductive burdens” on them.
Supporters of the bill included Animal Wellness Action, Organization for Competitive Markets, National Dairy Producers Organization and conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. The organizations stated that checkoff programs should be held accountable and the bill provided oversight of where their “hard-earned dollars are being spent,” as Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action, said. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor