Utah Senator Introduces Bill To Increase Oversight In Government Programs Promoting Ag Products

Apr 17, 2019

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), with support from Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), re-introduced a bill that failed last year called the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming, or OFF Act. The OFF Act is intended to reduce conflicts of interest in the agricultural industry in checkoff programs.

But what is a checkoff program?

“A checkoff is a research and promotion program that multiple agricultural commodities have to help them conduct research to benefit what they’re growing and promote it as well,” said Brandon Willis, an assistant professor in Applied Economics at Utah State University.

“It takes legislation to make it happen, but the gist of it is the producer who grows that is going to pay a mandatory fee every year and that goes into a fund [and] a board decides how that money is used. What’s come of these are promotional campaigns such as ‘Beef: it’s what’s for dinner’, ‘Pork: the other white meat’ – things like that.”

The resurrected bill aims to increase transparency for checkoff programs. If passed, it will prevent checkoff funds from going to organizations that lobby on agricultural issues. It will also create standards to prohibit anticompetitive behavior and conflicts of interest.

“Their belief is that these checkoffs need more checks and balances,” Willis said. “No conflicts of interest, no anti-competitive behavior, things such as that. I think they would explain it as these programs needing a little bit of reform.

"People will point to the Egg Board. What happened there is you had emails between a government entity – the Egg Board – and CEOs of certain egg companies. There was a start-up called Just Mayo, and they were making an egg-free mayo. Egg companies wanted the Egg Board to shoot down that concept. One could argue whether that’s improper or proper. I certainly don’t take a stance on that but that’s an instance they use.”

When the bill was last up for a vote in 2018 it failed to pass, 38 to 57.