WASHINGTON – Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced on Wednesday S. 3201, the Commodity Checkoff Program Improvement Act of 2016, 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.
“Last year a 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.
“When checkoff programs engage in anticompetitive activity, it is a threat to a dynamic and informed free marketplace,” Booker said. “This bipartisan legislation will help increase transparency and restore trust in checkoff program practices.”
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 Commodity Checkoff Program Improvement Act would:
· Prohibit checkoff programs from contracting with any organization that lobbies on agricultural policy;
· Prohibit employees and agents of the checkoff boards from engaging in activities that may involve a conflict of interest;
· Prohibit checkoff programs from engaging in anticompetitive activity, unfair or deceptive acts or practices, or any act that may be disparaging to another agricultural commodity or product;
· Require transparency through publication of checkoff program budgets and expenditures;
· Require periodic audits by the USDA Inspector General for compliance with the Improvement Act; and
· Require a GAO audit of check off program compliance and a report with further recommendations related to checkoff programs.
Supporters of the Commodity Checkoff Program Improvement Act of 2016 include:
American Agricultural Movement, Inc.
American Grassfed Association
Buckeye Quality Beef
Cattle Producers of Louisiana
Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Association
Community Food and Justice Coalition
Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias
Family Farm Defenders
Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance
Food Policy Council of San Antonio
Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska
Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
Land Stewardship Project
Missouri Rural Crisis Center
Missouri’s Best Beef Co-Op.
Murray County, Oklahoma, Independent Cattlemen's Association
National Family Farm Coalition
National Farmers Organization
Nebraska Women Involved in Farm Economics
Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA)
Organic Farmers' Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM)
Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association
Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM)
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union
Slow Food USA
Socially Responsible Agricultural Project
South Agassiz Resource Council
South Dakota Stockgrowers Association
Spokane County Cattlemen, WA
Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF)
Women Involved in Farm Economics
You can read the full text of the bill here