WASHINGTON – Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2019 (OFF Act) Thursday, 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.
“Checkoff programs force farmers to pay into a system that sometimes actively works against their interests," said U.S. Senator Mike 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.”
"Federal checkoff programs need to start working again for the family farmers and ranchers who are required to pay into them,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “This bipartisan legislation will bring much needed reforms by prohibiting conflicts of interest and anti-competitive practices, and requiring more transparency in these programs.”
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.
To improve the practices of checkoff programs, the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2019 would:
- 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