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.
Please contact your members of Congress and urge them to cosponsor this important legislation. If your members of Congress are already cosponsors, please thank them for their support for family farm agriculture.
Sample Phone Script for Calling Members of Congress and U.S. Senate
Hi, my name is _________, and I’m a constituent of (Representative or Senator) ___________.
I’m calling to ask him/her to cosponsor the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act and the Voluntary Checkoff Act, which would reform the commodity checkoff programs.
Right now, the checkoff programs are rife with abuse and mismanagement, and this legislation would help restore opportunity for U.S. family farmers and ranchers.
Again, I’m calling to ask him/her to cosponsor the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act and the Voluntary Checkoff Act.
Sample Email or Letter to Members of Congress and U.S. Senate
I am writing to urge you to address through legislation the egregious marketplace abuses which
have been clearly demonstrated by the commodity checkoff programs (“checkoff programs”).
Checkoff programs were established to serve as mechanisms by which agricultural producers pool money for common promotional and research purposes. Fees are mandatory, from the smallest local farmer to the biggest factory operation. Checkoff dollars go to federal industry- specific boards, which are required by law to use these funds for mutually beneficial advertising campaigns and research.
In spite of this limited purpose, checkoff programs have repeatedly acted beyond the scope of
their statutory mandate. Lax oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“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 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. Some of their tactics have gone so far as to expend government mandated fees to prevent new food products from entering the market. For the future of America’s agriculture and its family farmers and ranchers, legislative action must be taken.
The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, S. 741 & H.R. 1753, addresses the most glaring abuses by the commodity checkoff programs, clearly and concisely providing transparency and accountability to the programs. The provisions would eliminate the abuses and conflicts of interest plaguing the checkoff programs and will restore for U.S. producers credible, unbiased programs that can effectively and efficiently promote their individual commodities. It would further address the ongoing problem of cross-subsidization of checkoff and policy activities, as exemplified by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (“NCBA’s”) ability to materially offset and subsidize its policy-related costs and expenses with beef checkoff funds. The Beef Checkoff Program was never intended as a vehicle to strengthen the political voice of the NCBA or any other policy organization above the voices of any other organization or above the collective voice of the producers funding the program. Neither the NCBA nor any other private organization should be permitted to so substantially dominate the program or to so substantially reward itself for doing so.
Further, I strongly urge you to support the Voluntary Checkoff Act, S. 740 & H.R. 1752. By making all checkoff program payments voluntary, it ensures those farmers, ranchers and businesses who choose to participate in their commodity checkoff program may do so. But it further ensures that those farmers, ranchers and businesses who do not want to participate may choose to not pay into a commodity checkoff program that does not benefit their business.
Today’s commodity market is extremely diversified and segmented. It includes the world’s largest companies right down to the small farmer selling directly to their neighbors at their local markets. Given the complexity of this market, it is simply too challenging to have a single program that can remain fair, unbiased and beneficial to all participants.
Thank you for your consideration of this vital issue facing America’s family farmers and ranchers.