Producers of most commodities are required to pay a fee called a checkoff to the national and state commodity boards that represent and promote their product. These include the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Pork Producers Council, and the National Chicken Council, among others, all at the federal level, and corresponding associations at the state level. Their purpose is to conduct research, build markets, and promote their commodities – ad campaigns such as “Got Milk?” and “Pork, the Other White Meat” are underwritten by mandatory checkoff fees paid by producers of those products.
Reform Mandatory Checkoff Programs for Commodities
Commodity boards also lobby for policy change to support their product, and while checkoff fees are not supposed to be used for lobbying activities, in practice, the lines are often blurry. The policies advanced by commodity boards typically support corporate agriculture at the expense of independent family farmers and ranchers – even though it is those farmers and ranchers paying the checkoff fees. Transparency and accountability of commodity boards is a significant concern for producers and elected officials. Checkoff fees are allowed by federal law, but there are movements for change both nationally and in states. At the federal level, there have been attempts to reform the program.
State policymakers can make similar reforms to increase transparency and accountability at the state level. For example, bills to require that checkoff fee increases be voted on by producers and to conduct legislative review of checkoff programs and commodity boards have been introduced in various states. A lawsuit by independent Montana cattle ranchers is calling for “affirmative consent” from producers in order to use their funds for promotion activities; lawmakers can also support similar efforts in their states.
Federal: Reform the checkoff program to increase transparency and accountability, as proposed in the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act.
State: Reform state checkoff programs to require active participation from producers such as voting or opting in to approve program activities.
State: Increase state review and oversight of the checkoff program and state commodity boards.
Missouri (2015 MO HB 141) has considered legislation to require that any increase of checkoff fees be subject to a vote by all producers of that commodity.
Oregon (2015 OR SB 289) considered conducting periodic legislative review of state boards and commissions, including commodity councils.