WASHINGTON – Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2017 (OFF Act) Tuesday, a measure intended to bring much needed transparency and accountability to the federal government’s commodity check off programs.
Checkoff programs are mandatory participation programs under the US Department of Agriculture. These programs are funded through compulsory fees on producers of eggs, beef, pork and a multitude of other agricultural products. The programs and associated boards have received criticism in the past for a lack of transparency, apparent conflicts of interest, misuse of their funding and anticompetitive behavior.
“A recent FOIA request uncovered some troubling emails between the American Egg Board and top executives in the egg industry,” Lee said. “This was a classic case of Big Government and Big Business working together to squeeze out smaller rivals and squelch innovation.”
The American Egg Board CEO at the center of those emails has since resigned, but questions remain about the board’s activities.
“This bipartisan legislation will bring much needed reforms to federal checkoff programs,” Senator Booker said. “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.”
This bill is a direct response to the egg board scandal and past checkoff program misconduct, and the changes proposed by this legislation are designed to improve checkoff board behavior and avoid similar conduct in the future.
A companion bill cosponsored by Reps. Dave Brat (R-VA) and Dina Titus (D-NV) has been introduced in the House.
To improve the practices of checkoff programs, the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2017would:
- Clarify and fortify the prohibition on checkoff programs from contracting with organizations that lobby on agricultural policy
- Establishes program standards that prohibit anticompetitive behavior and engaging in activities that may involve a conflict of interest
- Requires transparency through publication of checkoff program budgets and expenditures, and means for audits of compliance