An amendment to the farm bill that would have significantly altered how checkoffs could operate failed to make its way into the omnibus agriculture legislation.
The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act of 2017, originally known as S. 741 and later amended to S. Amdt. 3074 to S. Amdt. 3224, was defeated by a vote of 57 no votes to 38 yes votes. Five senators abstained.
The original bill was sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) when it was released on March 28, 2017.
“This bipartisan legislation will bring much needed reforms to federal checkoff programs,” Senator Booker said at the time the bill was purposed. “By cracking down on conflicts of interest and anti-competitive practices, and bringing additional oversight and transparency, this bill will help to level the playing field for small family farmers and entrepreneurs.”
Senator Lee pointed to a controversy at the time involving the American Egg Board as a reason to remove industry associations as contractors to checkoffs.
“A recent 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 amendment was later co-sponsored by Senators Margaret Wood Hassan (D-N.H.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
The OFF Act was backed by 102 agriculture and food organizations including the National Dairy Producers Organization (NDPO), the American Grassfed Association (AGA), Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) and the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM).
As reported by Drovers, the OFF Act also had the support of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) on the advice of the animal rights group’s National Agriculture Advisory Council. The council includes leaders and members from within NDPO, AGA, R-CALF USA and OCM.
HSUS also funded an advertising campaign in the Washington DC area leading up to the bill’s vote.
The OFF Act would not have allowed checkoffs to contract with industry organizations such as the National Pork Producers Council, American Soybean Association or the National Corn Growers Association and a number of other groups.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the beef checkoff, released a statement thanking the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and the other Senators who voted down the OFF Act.
“The rejection of this amendment is a win for America’s cattle producers, who voluntarily created and continue to overwhelmingly support the beef checkoff system. Legislation like the Lee-Booker amendment is largely pushed by militant vegans and extreme political organizations that essentially want to end animal agriculture,” says Kevin Kester, fifth generation cattleman from California and president of NCBA.
“We're happy that producers can continue to lead the checkoff system and contract with whatever producer-led groups will best promote beef consumption and research,” Kester adds.
Despite the loss, OCM released a statement expressing their thanks to the Senators “who stood with America’s family farmers and against large multinational corporations and their trade lobbying groups.”
OCM, HSUS and other anti-checkoff groups allege that contractors to the checkoff use funds for lobbying.
The farm bill was passed in the Senate on June 28 by an overwhelming majority of 86 to 11, with three Senators not voting. Interestingly, of the Senators to vote yes for the OFF Act and then vote no on the farm bill, the group included Senators Lee and Paul who were cosponsors to the OFF Act, along with Senators Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Ron Johnson (R-Wi.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
A similar version of the OFF Act did not make its way into the House farm bill that was approved earlier in the month and was sponsored by Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.).
For more information on lobbying efforts of HSUS to support the OFF Act read: