Checkoff Reform Amendment Withdrawn Amidst Failing House Farm Bill

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 18, 2018

Checkoff Reform Amendment Withdrawn Amidst Failing House Farm Bill

Today, U.S. Representatives Brat (R-VA) and Blumenauer (D-OR) withdrew from debate their checkoff reform amendment on the House floor, avoiding it getting tangled up in the broader political battle which led to the defeat of the 2018 House Farm Bill. Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) and other advocates for checkoff program reform will now take the issue to the Senate as it begins its work on the Farm Bill.

Checkoff-funded commodity trade groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council, worked hard against the reforms. Their actions resulted in Representative Brat sending an email to his House colleagues informing them the lobbying by commodity trade associations which receive checkoff funds was only further evidence the reform measures need to become law.

OCM issued the following statement:

“Getting the checkoff reform amendment to the House floor was a victory for family farmers and ranchers and a great opportunity to raise awareness among policymakers. Having taxpayer-funded checkoff organizations lobby against family farmers and ranchers on this checkoff reform effort is criminal. OCM thanks Congressmen Brat and Blumenauer and Congresswoman Titus for co-sponsoring the amendment, and remains committed to ensuring government accountability is restored to the $800,000,000 commodity checkoff programs through the 2018 Farm Bill. We call on America’s family farmers and all those who care about accountability and transparency in our government to contact their U.S. Senator and urge them to support S.B. 741 as the Senate takes up the Farm Bill.”

The bipartisan amendment would have provided much-needed government accountability and transparency for the Commodity Research and Promotion Programs (checkoffs). The amendment would have ensured the authorizing checkoff laws prevent conflicts of interest, anticompetitive activities that harm other commodities, and governing boards of the checkoff programs from contracting with organizations that engage in lobbying. It would also require checkoff boards to publish all budgets and disbursements of funds for the purposes of public inspection, and submit to periodic audits by the USDA Inspector General.

Over 80 farm organizations representing over 250,000 family farmers and ranchers have expressed their support of this needed legislative reform. Similar legislation, S. 741, has been filed in the U.S. Senate by Senators Lee (R-UT) and Booker (D-NJ).

Background

Checkoff programs were established to serve as mechanisms by which farmers pool money for common commodity-specific promotional and research purposes. Federal assessments are mandatory and are extracted from the farmers’ payments for their goods.

Despite this limited purpose, checkoff programs have repeatedly acted beyond the scope of their statutory mandate. Lax oversight by the 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 and for political purposes. Such advocacy efforts have an anticompetitive effect, benefiting certain producers to the detriment of others, and forcing traditional family farmers to pay into a system that actively works against them.

A series of audits and reports, including an independent audit (2010), a USDA Office of Inspector General report (2014), and a Government Accountability Office report (2017), determined that government oversight of the over $800,000,000 in checkoff funds is extremely lax and that USDA has failed to implement necessary accountability measures, yet USDA has taken few steps to stop the abuses.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a trade and lobbying organization that represents the meatpacking industry, has been the most egregious abuser of these tax dollars, receiving over 80% of the beef checkoff funds, with over 70% of the NCBA president’s half million dollar salary coming from these government payments.

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Media Contact: Angela Huffman, 614-390-7552
ahuffman@competitivemarkets.com

Organization for Competitive Markets is a membership-based research and advocacy organization working for open and competitive markets and fair trade in America’s food and agricultural sectors.

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