January 23, 2020

Improving USDA Checkoff Program Transparency

Legislation Introduced to Improve USDA Checkoff Program Transparency

The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act was introduced in the House by Representative Dina Titus (D-NV) as a way to reform the USDA checkoff programs. “The USDA’s checkoff programs have operated without sufficient oversight for far too long - and this legislation will bring much-needed accountability and transparency,” Titus stated in a press release. The OFF Act would prevent USDA checkoff programs from paying organizations that lobby on agricultural issues, prohibit anticompetitive behavior, ban activity that involves conflicts of interest, and require audits to ensure compliance.

In March 2019, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the OFF Act in the Senate. “This bipartisan legislation will bring much needed reforms by prohibiting conflicts of interest and anti-competitive practices and requiring more transparency in these programs,” said Booker in a press release, "federal checkoff programs need to start working again for the family farmers and ranchers who are required to pay into them.”

Checkoff programs are obligatory programs managed by the USDA to promote and provide research and information for a particular agriculture commodity. These programs have been influential in agriculture advertisements, creating campaigns such as “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” and “Pork. The Other White Meat” with checkoff tax dollars. The OFF Act hopes to provide farmers and ranchers accurate information about where their tax dollars are going. The National Pork Producers Council, a checkoff program that provides research, education, and promotional work, defended checkoffs to Feedstuff, stating it is a "voluntarily funded, independent organization focused on advocating for the public policy interests of U.S. pork producers."

Read H.R. 5563 here.