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Legislation aims to increase checkoff oversight

Nebraska representatives introduces legislation to add accountability to USDA checkoff programs.

Nevada Rep. Dina Titus introduced the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act to "add accountability and transparency to reform" USDA checkoff programs, Feedstuffs reports.

“The USDA’s checkoff programs have operated without sufficient oversight for far too long - and this legislation will bring much-needed accountability and transparency,” said Titus, a Democrat.

Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act in the Senate.

"The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act is common sense reform that would help farmers see exactly where the fees they pay are going and ensure that their hard-earned money is not being used against them," said Lee, a Republican.

"Federal checkoff programs need to start working again for the family farmers and ranchers who are required to pay into them,” said Booker, a Democrat.

Checkoff programs are mandatory participation programs managed by USDA, set up to promote agricultural products and conduct research on those products.

The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act:

Clarifies and fortifies the prohibition on checkoff programs from contracting with organizations that lobby on agricultural policy;

Establishes program standards that prohibit anticompetitive behavior and engaging in activities that may involve a conflict of interest;

Requires transparency through publication of checkoff program budgets and expenditures, and means for audits of compliance.

Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action, praised the legislation.

“USDA’s runaway checkoff programs must be held accountable, and family farmers have a right to know where their hard-earned dollars are being spent. The checkoffs remain under fire because of their lack of transparency, misuse of funds, and damaging anti-competitive practices that have bankrupted millions of American farmers," he said.

Others defended the checkoffs. The National Pork Producers Council told Feedstuffs it's "voluntarily funded, independent organization focused on advocating for the public policy interests of U.S. pork producers."

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