The last decade has been brutal for family farmers, but most folks don’t really understand the root of the problem, and it’s not necessarily just inflation, supply chain problems, or the current state of our crippled economy under Joe Biden.
It’s one of the swampiest secrets in Washington, D.C. — the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Commodity Checkoffs for beef, pork, dairy, and other commodities. Under these programs, struggling farmers are forced to hand over part of their proceeds to line the coffers of these embattled government slush funds.
It’s the worst kind of taxation – one where the payer gets nothing in return. Major trade associations like Dairy Management, Inc., divert checkoff dollars that by law are restricted to commodity marketing programs and research, and instead use a large portion of the money to lobby against the interests of those it purports to represent.
As the Daily Caller’s investigative report noted in 2018, dairy checkoff funds spent by Dairy Management, Inc. on the “Got Milk?” campaign “didn’t sell more milk. In fact, per-capita fluid milk consumption dropped 24 percent between the time ‘Got Milk?’ launched in 1993 and was dropped in 2014, according to USDA data.”
Another investigative report noted that it had been “four years since the USDA published legally required annual financial reports on a $400 million dairy research and promotional fund” under the leadership of President Barack Obama’s U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Vilsack joined Dairy Management, Inc. just days after leaving office garnering a salary of more than $800,000 per year. And with Biden returning Vilsack to the same post, concerns about Vilsack‘s potential conflicts of interest have raised eyebrows across America.
But there is hope with the introduction of the bicameral Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, H.R. 1249/S. 557, by Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, that will bring transparency and accountability to USDA’s runaway checkoffs.
The bill doesn’t seek to abolish the checkoff programs, as beneficiaries are misrepresenting, but would instead simply require transparency and accountability. It would prohibit checkoff funds from being used for lobbying. The OFF Act also would prohibit funds from being used to pay for staff and programs of trade associations that favor multinational corporations and push independent farmers out of business. And it would prevent disparagement of one product over another, because allowing the federal government to pick winners and losers in the marketplace is unacceptable.
Right now, funds from checkoff programs benefit industry groups that promote frightening levels of market consolidation and anticompetitive practices in production agriculture, and that does nothing to help the family farmers forced to pay into the program.
For example, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the beef checkoff pushed for the dissolution of programs designed to prevent price-fixing at the packing houses. Producers are thus forced to accept prices imposed by the global meat cartels, such as JBS from Brazil and Smithfield from China, that make it impossible to compete with cheaper, suspect products from overseas. American producers and consumers alike should be outraged that the NCBA, a U.S.-based beef industry group, is helping giant multinational corporations instead of hard-working American farmers and ranchers. NCBA also helps those same foreign corporations in opposing rules to let consumers know where their meat was raised and processed. As a result of their nefarious efforts, the beef labeled as “Made in the USA” may have been produced in South America or Africa and merely packaged in the USA.
The effort for checkoff reform is supported by more than 80 farm organizations, including the Organization for Competitive Markets, the National Farmers Union, and R-CALF, representing over 250,000 family farmers and ranchers, alongside groups like FreedomWorks, the Heritage Foundation, R Street, and others.
Supporters of the bill are calling on Congress to take aim at these broken and corrupt programs by including the OFF Act in the upcoming farm bill, and Committee leaders should do just that.
As Rep. Mace said: “Anyone who opposes this legislation makes you wonder what they might actually have to hide.”
Marty Irby is the chief operating officer at FreedomWorks in Washington, D.C., and board secretary at the Organization for Competitive Markets in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.