A U.S. Senate bill referred to as the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2023 was newly reintroduced this week with the intent of overhauling all commodity checkoff programs, including the beef checkoff.
The bill — whose primary sponsors are Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (touted as the first vegan to serve on the Agriculture Committee) of New Jersey — makes the claim that “although the laws establishing checkoff programs broadly prohibit the use of funds in any manner for the purpose of influencing legislation or government action, checkoff programs have repeatedly been shown to use funds to influence policy directly or by partnering with organizations that lobby; the unlawful use of checkoff programs funds benefits some agricultural producers while harming many others.”
The measure has several co-sponsors: Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Elizabeth Warren(D-Mass.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). This same group introduced such a bill back in 2021 as well, but nothing happened to it after it was referred to committee. For 2023, Nancy Mace, (R-S.C.), and Dina Titus, (D-Nev.) introduced the House version of the checkoff bill.
Major beef producer groups R-CALF USA and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association were quick to weigh in.
While R-CALF USA maintains that the beef checkoff program is ill-suited to the needs of today’s cattle farmers and ranchers, NCBA says that the legislation represents an attempt to allow activists to dictate to producers.
NCBA wrote in a new release, “Sens. Booker and Warren have long been supported by animal rights groups, and this collective group of bill sponsors has worked long and hard to dismantle our industry’s only self-funded promotion and education effort.”
“In 2021, cattle producers overwhelmingly denied a referendum to end the Checkoff with detractors coming nowhere near the required signatures to petition for the termination of this vital program. The Beef Checkoff has a long track record of support among cattle producers,” said NCBA President and South Dakota cattleman Todd Wilkinson.
The Checkoff’s legality and current implementation has was upheld by multiple federal courts, including last year, when the Supreme Court denied a petition challenging the checkoff.
“Congress has plenty of work to do that could be far more beneficial to Americans. They should focus in areas of urgent need, rather than wasting time on these unwelcome ‘reform efforts’ that would only benefit anti-agriculture activists,” said Wilkinson.
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If passed, the OFF Act would:
- Prohibit checkoff programs from contracting with any organization that lobbies on agricultural policy.
- Prohibit employees and agents of the checkoff boards from engaging in activities that may involve a conflict of interest.
- Establish uniform standards for checkoff programs that prohibit anticompetitive activity, unfair or deceptive acts, or any act or practice that may be disparaging to another agricultural commodity or product.
- Require transparency through publication of checkoff program budgets and expenditures.
- Require periodic audits of compliance with the act by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General.
- Require a Government Accountability Office audit of checkoff board compliance and a report with further recommendations related to checkoff programs.
“We applaud these Senators and Representatives for introducing this legislation to meaningfully reform the beef checkoff program so it can begin working for, rather than against, American cattle producers,” said Bill Bullard, R-CALF’s CEO. “The OFF Act will provide the necessary accountability and transparency to prevent the misuse of producers’ checkoff dollars.”
The Beef Checkoff program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products.
According to NCBA, the checkoff program provides $11.91 in producer profit returns for every dollar spent. Between 2014 and 2018, the total domestic beef demand increased by 12.8 billion pounds.
“Any legislation that would hurt beef promotion efforts is tantamount to taking money directly out of cattle producers’ pockets,” said Wilkinson. “The introduction of the ‘Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2023’ represents Senators Booker, Lee, Paul, Warren and Gillibrand working to subvert the will of U.S. cattle producers. NCBA will always stand firm in its support of the U.S. Beef Checkoff program and will continue to fight the animal rights groups and the members of Congress who assist them in their efforts to end animal agriculture.”
While beef producers have been vocal about the newly introduced bill, checkoff programs are involved with a wide variety of commodity products, so an overhaul measure would impact several sectors of agriculture.
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