Checkoff Program Reform

Checkoff Programs and the Marketplace

Under federal law, farmers of certain commodities (including pork, eggs, and beef) are required to pay a portion of their sales into checkoff funds. These funds are intended to be used by the government to promote demand for those products through marketing campaigns. Well-known examples of past campaigns have been “Pork, the Other White Meat,” “The Incredible, Edible Egg,” and “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner.” Checkoff programs collect tens of millions of dollars from America’s farmers and ranchers every year.

Unfortunately, through questionable if not illegal ways, these dollars often wind up in industrialized agriculture’s coffers. And ironically, while independent family farmers and ranchers pay into these funds, the influence it buys industrialized agriculture corporations and trade groups is used to support policies that work against the family farmers who pay into the checkoff and to stop policies that support independent family farmers and ranchers.

NCBA’s Corrupt Influence

In the case of the beef industry, cattle producers are required to pay a tax of $1 into the checkoff fund for each head of cattle they sell. Under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board administers these funds. The Cattlemen’s Beef Board contracts with the industry’s largest trade association, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA), to carry out the beef checkoff advertising efforts, even though the NCBA claims membership of less than four percent of America’s cattle producers.

To maintain industrialized agriculture’s lock on the marketplace and their unjust share of the retail price of agriculture goods, industrialized agriculture trade organizations such as NCBA expend an excessive amount of monetary resources to gain influence to push for government programs that support their continued control of the market. Checkoff funds are one of their major sources of funding.

NCBA uses checkoff dollars to build its influence to push anti-independent family farm policy, all the while claiming it is the voice of U.S. cattle producers. NCBA used its ill-gotten influence to end Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and to hinder GIPSA rules that would end predatory market practices. This is a clear conflict of interest that is prohibited by law. Since the NCBA has been administering the lion’s share of the beef checkoff funds, the U.S. has lost nearly half of its cattle producers.

Our Work

Litigation
OCM has long been a leader of the effort to reform the checkoff tax system. As a result of our efforts, federal courts have questioned the basic premises of the program, and through OCM’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, thousands of documents are in the process of being released to shed the light of day on NCBA’s very dark practices.

Federal Legislation
Legislation has been reintroduced in both the U.S. House and Senate that would reform the federal checkoff programs. The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, S. 741 & H.R. 1753, would prohibit lobbying, rein in conflicts of interest, and stop anti-competitive activities that harm other commodities and consumers. It would also force checkoff programs to publish their budgets and undergo periodic audits so that farmers and ranchers know where their hard-earned money is going. The Voluntary Checkoff Act,  S. 740 & H.R. 1752, would ensure no farmer or rancher is forced to pay fees into programs that do not promote their market segment. Click here to support checkoff reform legislation.

State Beef Checkoff Audits
Ask your State Auditor, Attorney General and Budget Committee to audit the federal beef checkoff dollars in your state. Under the federal Beef Checkoff Program, each state’s beef council keeps up to 50 cents of the $1 federally-mandated fee. In 2005, these dollars were declared government taxes rather than producer fees, yet unlike other federal funds handled by the states, they are neither audited nor appropriated. Demand your tax dollars be audited and appropriated.

Request a State Level Checkoff Refund
Checkoff tax payments are mandatory, but in many states a refund from various state-level commodity checkoff programs are available. Each state has its own regulations and process. Click here for information on checkoff refunds.