Members of the House and Senate called on the Congress to prevent USDA and agribusiness trade groups – including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producer’s Council – from diverting tens of millions of dollars a year to salaries, lobbying and other inappropriate and impermissible activities through the national check-off programs. Taxes imposed on farmers and collected by the federal government are supposed to be spent to help farmers and promote their commodities, but vast sums instead go to allow NCBA and others to engage in advocacy or anticompetitive activities that hurt small farmers. This legislation is backed by leading conservatives, animal welfare and farming organizations, and fits in with President Trump’s promise to stop waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government.

In a show of the ideological spectrum backing this legislation, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced legislation in their chamber, while Reps. Dave Brat (R-VA) and Dina Titus (D-NV), introduced similar legislation in the House. The companion bills, labeled the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act (H.R. 1753 / S. 741), would be ideally suited for action during consideration of the 2017-2018 farm bill.

The OFF Act would strengthen checkoff program prohibitions against engaging in government policy advocacy, conflicts of interest or anticompetitive activities that harm other commodities or consumers. The bill is backed by farmers, animal welfare advocates and pro-market think tanks.

Established as generic promotion mechanisms for specific agricultural goods, checkoff programs constitute a half a billion dollar levy on farmers, many of whom are dismayed at mounting evidence that D.C. lobbying groups use their dollars to benefit the biggest agricultural interests to the detriment of smaller producers who value traditional husbandry and higher animal welfare standards.

“The USDA’s commodity checkoff programs are supposed to work for all farmers and ranchers, but they’ve been taken over by the largest corporate interests,” said Mike Callicrate, owner of Ranch Direct Foods and member of the Humane Society of the United States’ National Agriculture Advisory Council. “America’s farmers are forced to fund them, and yet we have no say in how our dollars are utilized. I thank Senators Lee and Booker and Representatives Brat and Titus for introducing these important bills to hold checkoff programs accountable to the people who are subsidizing them.”

A briefing held today in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center was cohosted by The Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a non-profit research and advocacy foundation focusing on antitrust and trade policy in agriculture. Presenters included Heritage, OCM president Mike Weaver, OCM founder and cattle producer Fred Stokes, Pennsylvania dairy farmer Brenda Cochran and Missouri Rural Crisis Center executive vice president Rhonda Perry. 

“For too long, America’s family famers have been forced to fund programs that undermine their efforts to preserve rural communities and to use traditional methods of farming,” said Joe Maxwell, a Missouri hog farmer and political director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Farmers should have guarantees these programs are working for them, and shouldn’t have their hard earned money going toward a slush fund for big ag.”

 “This legislation is a show of good faith to America’s farmers, who believe in accountability and government transparency,” said Pete Eshelman of Joseph DeCuis Farm and the HSUS National Agriculture Advisory Council. “We deserve to know where our dollars are going. Thanks to Senators Booker and Lee and Representatives Brat and Titus for standing up for open government, free markets and fairness for all farmers.”

The Humane Society of the United States and its legislative affiliate, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, strongly support this legislation, which would level the playing field for farmers using more humane agriculture methods and rejecting cruel and dangerous practices such as the extreme confinement of breeding pigs and laying hens. HSUS and HSLF are joined by a coalition of animal welfare groups and more than 60 farm groups.

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