Kenzy: OFF Act Sets New Standards for Government
. (Hall & Hall)
By Brett Kenzy May 22, 2023
The following opinion by R-CALF USA president Brett Kenzy was submitted to Drovers in response to an opinion by NCBA president Todd Wilkinson, Fight the Animal Rights Groups Infiltrating Our Industry, published by Drovers (and many other cattle industry publications) May 12.
In his May 12, 2023, opinion, “Fight the Animal Rights Groups Infiltrating Our Industry,” NCBA President Todd Wilkinson stated he was fed up. Wilkinson weaved a tale of deception, unholy alliances, infiltration, and hijacking. And then he asserted the current beef checkoff program promotes “our wholesome American beef.” He might need to calm down a little. Everyone knows the current beef checkoff program can’t (or won’t) promote American beef in our domestic market. His organization’s stance was revealed in the lawsuit the NCBA filed against mandatory country of origin labeling. In that lawsuit, the NCBA stated, “In short, beef is beef, whether the cattle were born in Montana, Manitoba, or Mazatlán.”
Perhaps we all need to calm down and examine what exactly the OFF Act (Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act), S.557 and H.R.1249, will do and what it won’t do:
· It will prohibit checkoff programs from contracting with any organization that lobbies on ag policy.
· It will prohibit employees and agents of checkoff boards from engaging in activities that may involve a conflict of interest.
· It will 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 ag commodity or product.
· It will require transparency through the publication of checkoff program budgets and expenditures.
· It will require periodic audits of compliance with the act by the USDA Inspector General.
However, the OFF Act won’t end any checkoff program. Though it will put an end to the practices of using checkoff tax monies to pay for lobbying, promoting the self-interests of employees, and running down other products. It will also put an end to the lack of transparency in checkoff program budgets and expenditures. This will ensure that the tax dollars collected from producers are used only for the intended purposes of the program. It is difficult to understand why, after approximately one billion dollars has been collected from producers since the program’s inception, anyone would think that the compliance audits required under the OFF Act are too much to ask.
In fact, why would this be too much to ask of any government program? It could be said that the OFF Act is simply Congress reasserting its constitutional authority over the conduct of its agencies and the programs they administer and oversee. Americans would do well to demand that Congress require this “of, by, and for the people”-type conduct of every agency within our government.
But Wilkinson used the oldest trick in the book, which is, if you can’t win the argument, change the conversation. He alleges that some supporters of the OFF Act want to end beef’s place on the menu, but the OFF Act doesn’t end anything except corruption and conflicts of interest. The enactment of the OFF Act will stop the siphoning of promotion, education, and research money away from those who use it as a lobbying slush fund. Thus, the OFF Act will result in more effective and efficient promotion of beef’s healthy place in the human diet and its critical role in preserving our environment. Of course, the OFF Act would end NCBA’s death grip on the lion’s share of beef checkoff funds – funds that cross-subsidize its beef industry lobbying organization.
It is time for members of Congress to listen to those they truly represent, the people whose passion and time is centered on their fields and pastures, not the avenues inside the Beltway. Although the voices of the status quo may be the loudest and most convenient for Congress to hear as they’re right down the street, the condition of our nation and our food security continues to deteriorate. Evidence of this decay is the fact that a bill like the OFF Act which sets new standards for government that will restore transparency to and the ethical and auditable use of checkoff tax dollars and require that use to be free of conflicts of interest and lobbying abuse is so controversial. What are the opponents of the OFF Act trying to hide? Why are the loudest opponents of the OFF Act the ones who benefit financially from the current checkoff system?
Fate is in our hands, please stand up and call your elected Senators and Representatives and request inclusion of the OFF Act within the 2023 Farm Bill.