FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 14, 2017
Media Contact: Angela Huffman, 614-390-7552
USDA Failed to Submit Five Years of Federally Mandated Dairy Checkoff Reports
Missing reports highlight need for checkoff reform to ensure transparency and accountability
LINCOLN, NE – Since 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has failed to submit federally mandated annual reports to Congress accounting for dairy checkoff program activities, spending, and effectiveness, according to USDA documents obtained by the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM). The missing dairy reports follow a history of documented abuses of checkoff tax dollars in the commodity programs and cover-ups of those abuses by the USDA, and it comes as more than 80 farm organizations urge Congress to pass pending legislation that would bring much-needed transparency and accountability to the secretive government programs.
According to federal law (7 US CODE §4514), the USDA’s secretary of agriculture is responsible for submitting annual reports to Congress accounting for dairy checkoff activities and spending, including an independent analysis of the effectiveness of the program. Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was responsible for the reports that were not submitted for five years, now serves as the president and CEO of the checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council.
The dairy checkoff reports were requested under the Freedom of Information Act by a university professor who sought the reports for his teaching. In USDA’s response to the FOIA request and in follow-up communications, USDA officials confirmed the reports had not been published nor even submitted to Congress as required by law.
Parke Wilde, a Tufts University professor who requested the reports, said “I initially assumed there had just been a delay in posting the reports to the USDA website. I was astonished to hear that the reports had never been published or submitted to Congress as required by law. I use these reports in my teaching, to show how consumers respond to checkoff marketing of dairy products with all sorts of nutritional profiles, ranging from milk to pizza to cheeseburgers. The reports are essential for transparency in checkoff program administration.”
Checkoff programs have repeatedly attempted to hinder efforts to shine a light on their misconduct. USDA’s Egg Board’s illegal effort to persuade government regulators and retailers to halt sales of “Just Mayo” brand products was only revealed through FOIA action. Meanwhile, USDA’s Pork Board has repeatedly refused to process FOIA requests. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit filed by OCM in 2014 to obtain public audit records following the discovery of more than $200,000 in improper checkoff spending during the equivalent of a nine-day period.
Mike Weaver, president of OCM, said “It’s time for Congress to hold USDA and its checkoff programs accountable for family farmers’ tax dollars. Since checkoff programs have been determined by the federal courts to be activities and speech of the federal government, those funds should be audited and transparent. It’s time to pass the federal Opportunities for Fairness and Farming (OFF) Act and the Voluntary Checkoff Act.”
Mike Eby, Chair of the National Dairy Producers Organization (NDPO), said “The present U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Perdue, now has an obligation to correct the failings of Mr. Vilsak and immediately prepare and publish the mandated annual reports to Congress for the last five years describing the activities of and accounting for the receipt and disbursement of all funds received by the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board. NDPO looks forward to Mr. Perdue fulfilling the statutory duties of his office.”