A new bill focused on commodity checkoff programs was introduced last week by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
The bill, entitled Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2017 (S. 741), would prohibit checkoff programs from taking “anti-competitive actions” and contracting with organizations lobbying on agricultural policy. Checkoff programs, operating under the USDA, would also be required to publish budgets and submit to audits by the Government Accountability Office.
In a press release, Senator Booker stated, “This bipartisan legislation will bring much needed reforms to federal checkoff programs. By cracking down on conflicts of interest and anti-competitive practices, and bringing additional oversight and transparency, this bill will help to level the playing field for small family farmers and entrepreneurs.”
For his part, Senator Lee noted the recent American Egg Board scandal in pushing for the legislation, and stated, “Checkoff programs are intended to promote certain commodities, not to disparage others, and because participation is mandated, farmers are sometimes forced to pay into a system that isn’t in their best interests.”
A companion bill, Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2017 (OFF Act), was introduced last week by Reps. Dave Brat (R-Va.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.). Per a press release, Rep. Brat stated, “Poor oversight and unclear federal transparency requirements by USDA has led to questionable behavior and cozy relationships between checkoff boards and lobby organizations. This bill will shed sunlight on these boards and ensure producers can rest knowing their checkoff funds are not being used to advance select special interests and anti-competitive practices that hurt free markets.”
The Organization for Competitive Markets offered support for the new legislation. OCM President Mike Weaver told WNAX Radio that “reforms are badly needed so that producers paying into those programs are not having those monies used against them,” and that “there is a large amount of support in rural America for these check off changes.”
For in-depth coverage of legal issues relating to checkoff programs, check out a recording of a recent webinar by the Agricultural and Food Law Consortium titled Legal Checkup on Checkoffs: Recent & Emerging Issues in Federal and State Checkoff Programs. The recorded webinar is available here.