Meatingplace | Farm groups focus on Senate for checkoff reform (updated)

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By Rita Jane Gabbett

The battle over whether commodity checkoff programs need reform within the context of the farm bill is not over.

This week, 102 farm and food organizations sent a letter calling for the U.S. Senate to support inclusion of the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, S. 741, in the Senate version of the farm bill. The legislation’s sponsors, Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), plan to introduce their legislation as an amendment to the Senate Farm Bill during floor debate.

During the recent debate of the House Farm Bill, Representatives Brat (R-VA) and Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a similar amendment, but withdrew it during the debate process. The House version of the farm bill was subsequently defeated in a floor vote. The House bill is scheduled for another vote on Friday.

While checkoff-funded groups including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association defend the programs, farm groups including the National Farmer’s Union, R-CALF USA and the Organization for Competitive Markets, argue the funds are misused to lobby for policies that sometimes hurt farmers and ranchers.

The Senate farm bill amendment would prohibit lobbying trade organizations from receiving checkoff funds but clarify the restriction does not apply to universities. It would also force checkoff programs to publish their budgets and undergo periodic audits so that farmers and ranchers know where their contributions are going.

Audits in the past have found that checkoff funds were misused or embezzled at the state or federal level.

Reviews by the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General and Government Accountability Office have found the funds were being legally handled, but there was room for improvements in the agency’s oversight.

(Update corrects reference to checkoff-funded organizations.)

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