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Reps. Brat, Titus Introduce Commodity Checkoff Reform Bill

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Washington, March 28, 2017 | Juliana Heerschap (202-225-2815) | comments
WASHINGTON - Reps. Dave Brat (R-Va.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.) introduced the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act of 2017 (OFF Act) Tuesday. This legislation will work to bring much needed transparency and accountability back to the federal government’s checkoff programs.

Checkoff programs operate under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and participation is mandatory. These programs collect funds from small local farmers to the largest factory operated producer for eggs, beef, pork, soybeans, and a multitude of other products. The funds are then given to industry-specific boards who are required by law to use the funds for mutually beneficial advertising campaigns and research. Despite the requirements in law, repeatedly these boards have faced criticism for conflicts of interest, anti-competitive market activity, unlawful policy advocacy coordination, and lack of transparency.

Rep. Brat issued the following statement, “Poor oversight and unclear federal transparency requirements by USDA has led to questionable behavior and cozy relationships between checkoff boards and lobby organizations. This bill will shed sunlight on these boards and ensure producers can rest knowing their checkoff funds are not being used to advance select special interests and anti-competitive practices that hurt free markets.”

“Checkoff programs are not pots of money for corporations to use to attack their political opponents,” Rep. Titus said. “This legislation will ensure that checkoff programs are not picking winners at the expense of the sector of the agriculture community that values animal husbandry.”

This legislation is a direct response to the recent misconduct demonstrated by the American Egg Board that led to the resignation of the CEO. Questions remain regarding the activities of the egg checkoff program and the lack of transparency demonstrated by multiple checkoff programs. This legislation is designed to clarify the role of checkoff boards and implement reforms.

A companion bill cosponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah.) and Cory Booker (D-NJ.) has been introduced in the Senate.

H.R. 1753 would include the following provisions:
* Clarify and fortify the prohibition on checkoff programs from contracting with organizations that lobby on agricultural policy.
* Establishes program standards that prohibit anti-competitive 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

Text of H.R. 1753
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