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February 13, 2020
The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming bill calls for adding transparency to how checkoff dollars are spent by requiring checkoff programs to publish budgets and undergo audits.
Recently, Wisconsin Democrat Rep. Mark Pocan and Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz added their support to the legislation, H.R.5563, joining Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, who introduced the legislation.
Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, introduced related legislation in the Senate. The bill, S.935, establishes restrictions and requirements for checkoff programs, which are overseen by USDA, and are designed to promote and provide research and information for agricultural commodities.
The bill prohibits checkoff boards from entering into a contract or agreement to carry out program activities with a party that engages in activities to influence any government policy.
It prohibits board members or checkoff employees from acting in their official capacity from engaging in any:
act that may involve a conflict of interest;
unfair or deceptive act or practice; or
act that may be disparaging to, or in any way negatively portray, another agricultural commodity or product.
Also, the USDA Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office must conduct specified audits regarding checkoff programs.
This is the third time bills to reform the checkoff program have been introduced, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Backers of the effort have included strange bedfellows, including the Humane Society of the United States, some dairy farmers and ranchers, environmental groups and Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
“Congress should swiftly hold a hearing on the OFF Act, bring the leaders of the beef, pork, and dairy checkoffs to the witness table, and require them to open the books to the American farmers whose hard-earned dollars they have been misusing," said Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action.
Opponents of the legislation include the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation. They argue the legislation "will gut" the programs and "impose unnecessary, duplicative and counterproductive burdens” on them.
The National Pork Producers Council noted in an email to Feedstuffs that it is a "voluntarily funded, independent organization focused on advocating for the public interests of U.S. pork producers."
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