WASHINGTON — Newly reintroduced legislation received mixed responses from the beef industry. On Feb. 28, a bipartisan bill was reintroduced to reform all commodity checkoff programs, including the beef checkoff program.
The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (OFF Act) was introduced by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) as well as Representatives Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Nancy Mace (R-SC).
If passed, the 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.
- Establish uniform standards for checkoff programs that prohibit anticompetitive activity, unfair or deceptive acts, or any act or practice that may be disparaging to another agricultural commodity or product.
- Require transparency through publication of checkoff program budgets and expenditures.
- Require periodic audits of compliance with the act by the US Department of Agriculture Inspector General.
- Require a Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit of checkoff board compliance and a report with further recommendations related to checkoff programs.
Groups representing cattle producers have voiced differing views on the proposed legislation. The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fun United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) applauded the bill.
“The decades old beef checkoff program is ill-suited to meet the needs of today’s cattle farmers and ranchers,” said Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF USA. “In fact, the program promotes corporate control and globalization over the interests of America’s cattle producers.
“We applaud these senators and representatives for introducing this legislation to meaningfully reform the beef checkoff program so it can begin working for, rather than against, American cattle producers. The OFF Act will provide the necessary accountability and transparency to prevent the misuse of producers’ checkoff dollars.”
With a differing stance on the OFF Act, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) released a statement condemning the bill.
The statement began by saying the legislation “represents nothing more than another attempt to allow activists to dictate to producers.” NCBA president and South Dakota cattleman Todd Wilkinson added that the beef checkoff has a long history of support among cattle producers.
“In 2021, cattle producers overwhelmingly denied a referendum to end the checkoff with detractors coming nowhere near the required signatures to petition for the termination of this vital program,” he said. “The beef checkoff has a long track record of support among cattle producers. Congress has plenty of work to do that could be far more beneficial to Americans. They should focus in areas of urgent need, rather than wasting time on these unwelcome ‘reform efforts’ that would only benefit anti-agriculture activists.”
The group said the checkoff provides a high return on investment and an increase in beef demand. For every dollar paid into the checkoff program, $11.91 is returned in producer profit. Between 2014-2018, total domestic beef demand increased by 12.8 billion lbs.
Federal courts have verified the legality and current implementation of the checkoff, NCBA noted. Last year, the Supreme Court denied a petition that challenged the checkoff.