February 28, 2023
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Mike Lee (R-UT) led a bipartisan effort to reform agricultural checkoff programs. Joined by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act will make checkoff programs more responsive to the farmers who are required to contribute to them. Checkoffs are mandatory Department of Agriculture fees assessed on a per-unit basis that fund boards designed to promote the commodity as a whole. However, checkoff funds are frequently coopted against the interests of some or even a majority of contributors. Countless farmers, ranchers, and other producers have seen their checkoff dollars squandered or used against their interests. This bill would prohibit certain wasteful, anti-competitive, and deceptive behavior from checkoff boards.
“Farmers and Ranchers are being forced to pay into checkoff programs that often advocate against their best interest and support food system consolidation. These programs need transparency and oversight so a farmer can be sure they aren’t required to fund their own demise,” said Senator Booker. “That is why I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will help increase transparency and prohibit conflicts of interest and anti-competitive practices in these programs.”
“Checkoff programs are filled with waste and often abuse those who are forced to contribute to their coffers,” said Senator Lee. “These common-sense reforms will ensure that checkoff funds promote and protect all ag producers (big and small) who are meant to be served by these programs.”
“The current checkoff system does not provide enough transparency to our farmers on how their hard-earned dollars are used,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am committed to ensuring the checkoff programs are modernized and reflect the best interests of our farmers.”
“The decades old beef checkoff program is ill-suited to meet the needs of today’s cattle farmers and ranchers,” said Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF USA. “In fact, the program promotes corporate control and globalization over the interests of America’s cattle producers. We applaud Senators Lee and Booker for introducing this legislation to meaningfully reform the beef checkoff program so it can begin working for, rather than against, the American cattle producers.”
“For far too long, America’s farmers and ranchers have been forced to pay into government checkoff programs, only to see their dollars used against them by trade and lobbying organizations representing the world’s largest meatpackers and grain traders,” said Farm Action Fund President Joe Maxwell. “We applaud Senators Lee and Booker for their continued effort to bring transparency and accountability to these corrupt programs.”
“American family farmers are in peril and today, every cent counts,” said Taylor Haynes, president of the Organization for Competitive Markets. “If we’re going to be forced to pay into USDA’s checkoff programs then the very least we should expect is transparency, accountability, and oversight of our hard-earned dollars, and the OFF Act accomplishes just that.”
“The OFF Act was first introduced in the 115th Congress and here we are in the 118th Congress still working for transparency and accountability to reform the USDA’s commodity checkoff programs,” said Deborah Mills, chairwoman of the National Dairy Producers Organization. “This speaks volumes about what frustrates producers who are paying into checkoff programs. The recipients of the checkoff dollars are the greatest proponents of maintaining the status quo. Producers are being denied the basic right to have their questions about their investment answered.”
“I don’t want my hard-earned dollars funneled to a quasi-governmental organization that works against my best interest and represents industrial agriculture’s continued movement toward the monopolization of farming,” said Will Harris, past president of the American Grassfed Association and proprietor of White Oak Pastures. “We’ve farmed the same land in Georgia since 1866, and I want to ensure that future generations are able to continue to do the same.”
“We applaud Sens. Lee, Booker, Paul, Warren, and Gillibrand for their tireless work and leadership on the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action. “USDA’s commodity checkoff programs remain under fire because of their lack of transparency, misuse of funds, and damaging anti-competitive practices that have bankrupted millions of American farmers.”
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