Humane Society of the U.S. Lobbies for Bill to Limit, Reform Checkoffs

How checkoffs are managed could be drastically changed if legislation supported by one of the largest animal rights groups is added and passed in the farm bill. ( Humane Society of the United States )

One of the largest animal rights groups in the country is pushing support for a farm bill amendment in the Senate that would dramatically limit the use of checkoff funds.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has been lobbying members of the Senate this past week to support an amendment in the farm bill that prohibits “certain practices relating to certain commodity promotion programs, to require greater transparency by those programs, and for other purposes.”

The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act of 2017, also known as S. 741 was sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) when it was released on March 28, 2017. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the only other bill cosponsor to join, thus far.

The bill traces its roots back to the 2016 legislative session when the same bill was introduced says Marty Irby, HSUS Senior Advisor of Equine Protection & Rural Affairs.

HSUS has backed the legislation after speaking with members of the HSUS National Agriculture Advisory Council which include leaders of the National Dairy Producers Organization, the American Grassfed Association and the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM).

Irby says the objective was to find some legislative issues that “would positively impact both what they’re trying to do and animal welfare as a whole.”

HSUS lobbying efforts in the past week have included an email sent out to Senate staffers asking for the support of their bosses on the OFF Act “which would require greater transparency in the administration of the USDA’s checkoff programs.”

The HSUS email indicates Senators Lee and Booker plan to submit the legislative language as an amendment to the farm bill when it is consider by the chamber this week. The legislative language would bar any checkoff program from entering “into any contract or agreement to carry out checkoff program activities with a party that engages in activities for the purpose of influencing any government policy or action that relates to agriculture.” That would bar checkoffs from contracting with industry organizations such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Soybean Association or the National Corn Growers Association among others.

There was also an advertising campaign by HSUS in the Washington DC area on cable news networks such as Fox News, MSNBC and CNN. The 30 second commercial implores viewers to “stop the checkoff corporate handout.” The full commercial can be watched below:

A version of the same bill known as H.R.1753 in the House of Representatives failed to make it into the first version of the House farm bill in May.

The House version of the OFF Act was sponsored by Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) and has 11 Democrat cosponsors, but no other Republican backers.

Irby believes partisan politics helped keep the OFF Act out of the farm bill discussions in the House, but he also alleges that lobbying efforts by agriculture organizations also led to its downfall.  

“The big ag folks turned around and spent checkoff dollars, we believe, to fill up Congressional inboxes with the very thing we’re trying to stop,” Irby adds.

A tweet from OCM has an email from Rep. Brat and his cosponsors Rep. Earl Blumenauer Earl (D-Ore.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.) alleging checkoff affiliated groups lobbying against the OFF Act:

In addition to HSUS, the OFF Act is supported by a group of 102 farm and food organizations that sent a letter to the Senate on June 20 asking for a vote in the bill’s favor. A majority of the groups are state or local associations. 

Last year a similar letter was sent by many of the same associations with OCM and Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) asking for support.

“Our joint letter provides clear evidence that independent cattle producers are tired of the conflicts of interest, misspending, and other abuses rampant in our beef checkoff program. We are now appealing to Congress to take action to stop these commodity programs from harming the very individuals who are forced to pay into the checkoff funds, such as the $1 per head cattle tax that U.S. cattle producers must pay each time they sell an animal,” says Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA, of the 2017 letter.

“Egregious abuses of U.S. farmers’ and ranchers’ mandatory checkoff tax dollars have been exposed in the beef, pork, dairy, egg, and other checkoff programs. The half-billion dollars that these programs take from farmers have become the cash cow for organizations that work against fair competition and market transparency, forcing independent family farmers and ranchers to essentially fund their own demise. Successful passage of this proposed legislation is critically important to restoring fair markets and rebuilding our domestic family farm and ranch agriculture,” says Fred Stokes, founding member of OCM.

The OFF Act amendment did not end up making its way into the House version of the farm bill that passed on June 21. However, if the Senate were to amend their version of the farm bill to include the  OFF Act in the final language, it could potentially make its way into the joint bill at conference later this summer.

 
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