WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today Farm Action urged the Biden administration to prioritize competition in the 2023 Farm Bill by supporting commodity checkoff reform. This call to action came at a White House roundtable listening session where Farm Action was invited to present to senior administration officials from the National Economic Council, the Domestic Policy Council, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We thank President Biden and his administration for holding today’s one-of-a-kind roundtable,” said Farm Action President Angela Huffman, who attended the listening session. “As I explained to administration officials, today’s government checkoff programs are broken: they take money from farmers and give it to lobbying groups actively working against the White House’s own competition agenda.”
While checkoff funds are meant to be used for product research and promotion — and have funded ad campaigns such as “Got Milk?” and “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.” — the lack of oversight and transparency within these programs enables this money to fall into the wrong hands.
“It is time for change, and the opportunity now exists for reforming checkoffs to shift the balance of power from consolidated corporate interests back to America’s farmers and ranchers,” continued Huffman. “Farm Action looks forward to working with the Biden administration to advance agriculture competition as a key part of the President’s economic plan and the 2023 Farm Bill.”
The majority of organizations in attendance shared Farm Action’s call for checkoff reform. Other key priorities expressed included reinstating Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling and strengthening the Packers and Stockyards Act.
The White House listening session comes at a critical time as Congressional farm bill negotiations ramp up ahead of the September 2023 expiration deadline. Earlier this year, Farm Action released its 2023 Farm Bill priorities aimed at transforming the U.S. food system by increasing competition in the agriculture sector. These priorities included support for the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (S.557/H.R.1249), which would add new measures of transparency and accountability for commodity checkoff programs and prevent funding from going to lobbying organizations.
Following her introductory comments, Huffman’s remarks were delivered as follows:
The most important thing the White House can support to bring fair competition to American agriculture is the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act or the OFF Act. This legislation would rein in one of the biggest drivers of corporate consolidation: the one-billion-dollar government-mandated checkoff programs.
These government programs are taking money from farmers and giving it to lobbying organizations, many of which are working against components of the White House’s competition agenda including Packers and Stockyards rulemaking and the Product of U.S.A. rule.
The OFF Act would do three things: require greater transparency in how these dollars are spent (right now very little information is available to the public), create more accountability through auditing, and it would prohibit checkoff dollars from being contracted to organizations that lobby.
The OFF Act would not end the checkoffs. It would strengthen them and make them more efficient.
This legislation was brought to the Senate floor as an amendment during the 2018 Farm Bill debate and was supported by 38 members of the Senate. It has only gained support since then. It also has the support of more than 60 farm organizations representing hundreds of thousands of farmers.
The hard truth is checkoff programs are failing to support the farmers paying into the programs. They claim huge returns on investment, for example the beef checkoff claims an ROI of over $11 for every dollar collected. But that ROI is based on retail prices, and that return does not go back to the farmer paying in.
Since the beef checkoff program was established in 1985, per capita beef consumption has dropped (and the main purpose of these programs is to increase demand), the U.S. has lost half a million cattle producers, and four corporations have taken control of 85% of the market.
It’s time for a change. I hope the White House would support the OFF Act.