April 29, 2019

Bipartisan bill aims to reform checkoff programs

Bipartisan bill aims to reform checkoff programs

After decades of controversy and court cases over what should and shouldn’t be allowed for checkoff programs, legislators have introduced a new bill meant to increase accountability for checkoff boards. The “Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act” is sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). This same language was introduced as part of the 2018 Farm Bill but did not make its way into the final markup.

According to the language of the resolution: “A board or its employees or agents acting in their official capacity may not engage in any:

  • act that may involve a conflict of interest;
  • anticompetitive activity;
  • unfair or deceptive act or practice; or
  • act that may be disparaging to, or in any way negatively portray, another agricultural commodity or product.”

“Checkoff programs force farmers to pay into a system that sometimes actively works against their interests," says Senator Lee. "On top of that, the boards for these programs have come under fire for a lack of transparency and for misuse of their funds. The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act is common sense reform that would help farmers see exactly where the fees they pay are going and ensure that their hard-earned money is not being used against them.”

Lee and Booker say the bill is "a direct response to the egg board scandal and past checkoff program misconduct."

Some are questioning the need for such legislation. In an opinion article for BEEF Magazine, Steve Dittmer, a longtime industry commentator and principal of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation, argues that checkoff boards are already acting in transparency.

“...Discovering financial information, at least in the beef industry, is not that hard. Any NCBA board meeting or Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) meeting makes financial information available openly. Committees openly discuss budgets and expenses,” writes Dittmer. “As for benchmarking, budgeting, tracking and evaluation of projects, few accounting firms could track moneys and results any better than the CBB.”