OPINION: Big Agriculture Is Sucking Money From Family Farmers With Checkoff Programs

Marty Irby | Executive Director, Animal Wellness Action

It’s been a rough year for family farmers, and it’s not simply because of Mother Nature, trade deals and tariffs. Big Agriculture is sucking up the hard-earned dollars of family farmers and using those funds to lobby against the interests of the people it purports to represent.

To be precise, I am writing about Big Ag’s gravy train — a series of USDA’s checkoff programs for beef, pork and dairy.

Reports have consistently revealed corruption and scandal after scandal under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans. Established to pool funds for commodity-specific promotion and research, and mandated to be funded directly from farmer dollars, the checkoff programs have ranged beyond their original purposes and have become a source of controversy and government abuse.

Illegal relationships between checkoff boards and lobbyists that misuse checkoff dollars to influence legislation have done harm to family farmers and ranchers and the organizations that work to protect them.

Back in May and June, however, farmers were encouraged. It seemed the Farm Bill might have a silver lining for family farmers when both the House and Senate leadership allowed votes on bipartisan floor amendments that would reform the USDA’s commodity checkoff programs.

Those amendments didn’t seek to abolish the programs but would create transparency and accountability and prohibit checkoff funds from being used for lobbying. They also would prohibit funds from being used to pay for staff and programs of trade associations that favor multi-national corporations, and push policies that drive farmers off the land.

Right now, funds from checkoff programs benefit trade associations that promote frightening levels of consolidation within these sectors. That does nothing to help the family farmers forced to pay into the program.

Hundreds of millions of have been improperly spent, influencing policy decisions that have wreaked havoc on family farmers—like the repeal of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) that allows foreign-grown beef to be labeled as a product of the USA, crushing American beef producers as Fox News’ Tomi Lahren has exposed in recent months.

The reform efforts have diverse leaders — from U.S. Reps. Dave Brat to Earl Blumenauer and U.S. Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul to Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren. The measures mirrored the Opportunity for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, H.R. 1743/S. 741.

The support was overwhelming, with more than 80 farm organizations, representing over 250,000 family farmers and ranchers, cheering on the amendments alongside groups like the Heritage Foundation, R Street, and National Taxpayers Union.

But the House measure met its demise when Big Ag began filling up Congressional email inboxes with letters produced and paid for by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council. Both organizations receive the very checkoff dollars that the measure would have prevented these organizations from abusing.

Facing a torrent of false information funded by the trade groups who derive three-quarters of their annual budgets from the checkoff programs, sponsoring lawmakers pulled back and withdrew their amendment.

In the Senate, farm groups, conservative think tanks, and animal protection organizations stepped up to combat the claims, but despite unlikely allies like Sens. Chuck Grassley, Ted Cruz, Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders voting in support of the amendment, it failed by a margin of 57 to 38.

We appreciate these Members of Congress who supported these measures during a time when too little support or care is given to those who dedicate their lives to feeding the American people.

Our constitution provides for freedoms that are being grossly abused by USDA’s corrupt checkoff programs, and in the spirit of true conservatism and reforming our runaway government, we call on Congress to take a second look — and hold Congressional hearings on the OFF Act and open the checkoff books to the public.

If Big Ag fights against a simple hearing on the matter, it makes you wonder what the organizations have to hide.

Marty Irby is the Executive Director at Animal Wellness in Washington, D.C.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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