High Plains Journal: US Senate leaders reintroduce commodity checkoff reform legislation

US Senate leaders reintroduce commodity checkoff reform legislation

· Apr 3, 2017

Federal lawmakers reintroduced legislation to bring transparency and accountability to the federal government’s commodity checkoff programs. The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act, S. 741, was introduced by Sens. Mike Lee, R-UT, and Cory Booker, D-NJ, while Reps. Dave Brat, R-VA, and Dina Titus, D-NV, plan to introduce companion legislation in the House. The Voluntary Checkoff Act, S. 740 was reintroduced by Lee, and it will also be introduced in the House. The Organization for Competitive Markets announced its enthusiastic support for the legislation.

OCM founder Fred Stokes said, “The original intent of these checkoff programs was to help U.S. farmers and ranchers, but they have been hijacked by corporate interests and often times foreign corporate interests. The half-billion dollars that these programs generate each year are being used to pick winners and losers in the market. They even engage in anti-market access campaigns within the same market sector or commodity. These funds have become the cash cow for organizations that work against fair competition for family farmers.”

Checkoff programs are mandatory participation programs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These programs are funded through compulsory fees on producers of eggs, beef, pork and a multitude of other agricultural products. Lax oversight by USDA 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 despite a broad statutory prohibition against these activities.

OCM President Mike Weaver said, “In 2005, the Supreme Court determined these are government programs, and with the commodity checkoff boards being co-opted by industrial agriculture trade organizations, family farmers’ only hope is that Congress will take action on these extremely important bills. We are fighting in the courts and getting at the truth; commodity checkoff programs need to be reformed.”